Thursday, September 25, 2008

Rats, Snails, and Worms

First a technical message:
Rachel Meiste in the subject line . . . . will get to me on a weekly basis. (The medical team is going to come out once a week for training sessions and they said they would bring our mail.)

We’ve had two more days of training/classes and most of them were spent on medical issues. One afternoon, we packed and discussed the contents of two tool-kit type medical containers. We have several kinds of pain killers, several kinds of antibiotics, several kinds of washes or creams or ointments, bug spray, sun screen, cotton balls, band aids, steri strips, gauze pads, oral rehydration tablets, water treatment tablets, even a malaria testing kit (lancet included). I had to keep reminding myself that this was all “just in case” something happened. We also received a handbook put together by the medical office to help us self-diagnose and self-treat and a book called Where There is No Doctor: A Village Healthcare Handbook that is designed for the whole world. There are some pretty interesting diseases and treatments in there, let me tell you!

And today we had a session on food and water safety and all the things you can experience if your food or water isn’t safe. The funny thing is that most of the diseases, worms, bacteria, viruses, etc that we may be exposed to all have similar symptoms and many of them (the viruses) just have to go through their cycle. There’s nothing you can do except treat the symptoms. Somehow that doesn’t make me feel better. But again, I am a relatively healthy person, not particularly prone to accidents, and most volunteers we’ve talked with haven’t been sick more than once or twice in the year or year and a half they’ve been here. Quite reassuring.

Everyone has been holding up pretty well so far, I think, though the ipods and books and journals are appearing more often. People come to sit in the communal area in the courtyard but they come equipped with signs that this is personal time. Probably a good thing. Generally speaking, we are with other trainees from at least 8 am to 5pm and usually much longer than that since we’re not encouraged to go places by ourselves. Most trainees do something in the evening--a trip to a nakamal for kava, a movie at a downtown restaurant, dinner at a restaurant or a trip to the market. It is rare that we have or take advantage of time alone in our rooms.

In the next few days, however, we’ll definitely be spending more time in our rooms as we unpack and repack all of our belongings. It is a matter of deciding what to bring to the training village, home for the next 10 weeks, and what can stay here for the time being. Some of our things can stay in storage here in Port Vila, but the suggested packing list is fairly long and it includes things we’ll need for our “wokabaot” to our permanent sites. It sounds like we come back to the capital city 2 or 3 times during training but I think they are scheduled outings. No telling how much free time we’ll have to unpack and repack the stuff in storage.

I’m also getting some more ideas for the wish list--things that I didn’t think to bring until I got here or things that I thought I wouldn’t need but have reconsidered. Things like Gatorage mix packets. After drinking the green coconut milk (a rehydration miracle fluid, according to PC nurses) and the rehydration solution provided in our medical kits, I will be happy to mix up some Gatorade instead.

Our first official Bislama lesson is tomorrow, complete with practice trip to the market to talk with the “mamas” who are there. The Peace Corps often uses the hotel where we are staying and the ladies who work here have begun to ask us more things in Bislama as well. They are really nice about helping us with our new vocabulary. “Olsem wanem?” (“How are you?”) “I stret.” (“I stret” translates something like “It’s all good.”) Bislama actually uses a lot of English words or words that were originally English, but they’re written phonetically so they look different, like “wokabaot.” “Yu oraet?” would be another example. Any guesses? (“ae” is pronounced long “i” like “sight”). They do have multipurpose prepositions which are confusing to me but the trainers promise to do everything they can to help us become conversant/comfortable speaking Bislama in the 10 weeks of training.

Friday, September 26
Opening your mouth to try a new language for the first time, outside of the safe class environment is a pretty intimidating moment. We went to the market today, a field trip, to try out our first Bislama. The lessons this morning were really interesting. We started with pronunciation and then some basic sentence structures. Susan S., you would LOVE the phonetics of this language! I kept wishing you were here listening in. The mamas at the market were very forgiving and I only tried out a few phrases--”Mi wantem wan raep mango, plis.” and “Wanem nem blong ia?”(What name belongs to this?) One group of ladies was laughing at my pitiful attempts to pronounce an unfamiliar fruit but what can we do but laugh at our neighbors and be laughed at in our turn (I paraphrase J).

Tomorrow is our cooking class in the morning and water safety in the afternoon. It is supposed to rain all afternoon so our water excursion should be interesting. Then we pack up and leave for our training village where we will be for the next 10 weeks. There was a possibility that our host mamas and papas would be at the market today, but I didn’t meet mine. That will have to wait until Sunday. We are supposed to come back to Port Vila a few times during training so I hope to be able to update again in a couple of weeks.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Here in Vanuatu

I had a whole update typed up and saved on my flashdrive, but this computer can't read it so this is my best attempt at a lot of information in a few minutes.
We arrived in Port Vila, Vanuatu on Saturday, having missed Friday entirely. The time here is 16 hours ahead of the east coast, USA. We have found it easier to add 8 hours to our time and then remember it's actually the day before on the east coast. So it is 5:15 Tuesday evening here in Port Vila and (8 hours ahead would be) 1:15 am on the east coast, but Monday night/Tuesday morning. Got that?

This is the airport in Port Vila. We "deboarded" to really nice weather, cool (by my definition) and breezy. The PeaceCorps volunteers were waiting for us, you can see the people above the airport waiting and watching from behind the fence. The volunteers met us outside the airport after we cleared customs in a receiving line. We were given leis, a coconut with straw for the milk, a lava lava (the traditional wrap), and a name tag as we traveled down the row. See image below. :)

Port Vila's essence is not hard to imagine if you have visited a Caribbean country and actually toured or walked the areas where people live, not just the resort or tourist areas. The main roads are paved in the city but outlying areas have crushed coral roads, most of the buildings are made of cinder blocks and are one story tall, though there are exceptions. Shrubs and trees grow where ever they can. The roads are really busy during the "rush hour" times with minivans that are buses or taxis and pedestrians walking to work or the nearest bus stop. Other times of the day, the roads are pretty empty which is nice because the drivers don't give you a lot of space as a pedestrian. The bougainvillea and hibiscus are blooming but the smell is of fire. There is always a faint smell of smoke in the air because many people here burn their trash.

This is a picture of a small portion of the main road through Port Vila. The road follows the curve of the harbor and is never far from the water. Most of the businesses are closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays (when this picture was taken). The second picture is a view of Irriyikki Island (not sure about the spelling) which is a resort island in the harbor.

Several of the other trainees and I spent our free time on Sunday walking around the city. In the afternoon, we went to our country director's house for a tea. We got to try a number of local fruits--soursop is a fruit that is fleshly kind of like a pear but tastes more like citrus and pampamousse is a lot like grapefruit only not as tart. We got to sample our first traditional foods on Monday during our first day of training. The PC staff laid out quite a spread for us. We had lots of fresh fruit, including pampamousse and mango and several kinds of bananas. There was pumpkin with coconut milk, taro with coconut milk, curried fish and roasted fish (a whole BIG one), barbecued beef filets, potato salad made with yams and purple potatoes, coleslaw, and the traditional Vanuatu dish, lap lap. Lap lap is a little bit like a pasty or meat pie. There are vegetables or meat inside of a shell but the outside is thicker than crust. It's more like mashed potatoes spread around the meat only it's made from manioc or taro or plantain. It was delicious.
Today was the day for shots--4 of them today. I'll have to come back for 3 more in a few months, finishing up the heptatis series. Other than getting over the jet lag, those have been the only low points. :)
I have lots more to write, but I need to conserve my internet cafe minutes. Hopefully I will be able to figure out a way to type up my posts on my computer and paste them here. I'll be able to say a lot more that way!

Monday, September 15, 2008


My flight will be leaving from the Sarasota airport tomorrow at 3:55 and I'm either overpacking or underbagging. My bed is covered with assorted things that somehow didn't make it into the two bags I've packed. So far three people have weighed in with opinions--2 for "bring another bag" and 1 for "do what you think is best." I have to say that I'm torn between making sure everything fits (and having room for a couple of spare items) and the fear that I'm overdoing it--that my American materialism is overriding my better judgement. It is also important to keep in mind that I have to carry everything I bring, probably several times and in less than smooth conditions. There is still time to cast your vote--dial 1 for "bring another bag," 2 for "cut back on the goods," and 3 for "do what you think is best." The winner will be announced the next time I am able to update.

I will be bringing a computer after all. Communications from the Peace Corps regarding mail mentioned that expensive items have a tendency to get misplaced when they have to go through the postal system/customs in Vanuatu so my original plan to 'get there and see if a computer would be helpful' had to be thrown out. Depending on my placement, the computer will come with me and be a handy, helpful tool or it will be put into storage in Port Vila for use when I am there. So much depends on the placement.

The last two weekends were spent visiting with Florida friends and family. One weekend, I was in Ft. Lauderdale visiting with my friend Elizabeth and her family. The next weekend was spent with my sisters, brother-in-law, and parents. We had a great time visiting the beach and kayaking and playing lawn volleyball.

Many thanks to all of you who have called or emailed or commented here on the blog. I so appreciate all of your encouragement and support.
See you again in 27 months or so!