Thursday, October 30, 2008


Sorry about that last update--I’m not sure what happened.

Here is the latest. . . . .

Placements were announced on Wednesday and I will be going to Ambae (island) and working in the provincial capital of Saratamata. I will be replacing a volunteer who is currently working for the provincial education office and my job description includes teacher observation and coaching, leading workshops, coordinating communication between the provincial education officers and the volunteers, and who knows what else. I am hoping to be able to do some team teaching in the local primary school and to do some curriculum work as well. There’s really no way of knowing exactly what to expect until I get there. The nice thing is that the current volunteer already has some projects going and has made some suggestions about things that need to be done so I feel like I have a head start.

On Saturday, I will leave for my wokabaot to Saratamata and I will be there for a full week before coming back to the training village for three final weeks of technical training. The visit to site is kind of an introduction for me as well as a last check to make sure everything is in order, like housing arrangements. From the information I have received, Saratamata is important as the provincial capital and it has electricity and running water and stores but its population is just over 100 people. It’s hard for me to envision the modern/urban elements with so few people. Most of the people who live there are government workers or nurses or store owners or the like.

Today was a busy day in the training village. We began with a quick debrief about our school visits from the day before; our group visited 5 different places in groups of 2 or 3. It was our second trip to schools where we were able to spend the day observing, and sometimes teaching. It has been really helpful to see the challenges the teachers of Vanuatu face and strategies they use for teaching first hand. Then a short Bislama session where we had to write and tell a story in Bislama and then a trip to the garden. We headed for a garden that has been planted on a slope and talked about strategies for reducing erosion and how to follow the contours of the land when planting and which trees are good for what uses--straight sticks, quick growers, nitrogen sources, invasive species, etc. The last part of the day was spent prepping a village house for a cyclone. We cut coconut palm fronds for the traditional houses (they help hold the roof down) and found concrete bricks and sandbags for the metal roofs. Good practice since it’s cyclone season here from November to April.

We also had a really interesting session with a woman who is working with one of the villages to write down their alphabet. The lower classes at the primary schools are supposed to be taught in the local language, but only some of the villages have that language in print. Janet is working with one of the villages that doesn’t have their language written down yet. She has been working on an alphabet book (A is for apple) for the local language and it was so interesting to hear about the process. She also had some great tips and advice for planning and selecting topics for teacher workshops. Kath, I’ll be calling or emailing for help soon!

The kids here are really amazing. Many of them learn two languages right at the start--the language from their mother’s village and the language from their father’s village. Sometimes they just learn Bislama and sometimes their parents are from the same village so they only learn the one language to start. But there is so little printed material in any of these languages that learning to read is a challenge. Most of their knowledge is obtained aurally. Then, when they get to second or third grade, their classes are taught in either English or French. And when they get a little older, they take the other language as a foreign language. It’s no wonder that literacy skills are low when the kids are learning several languages without learning to be competent and confident readers in their first language. I continue to be amazed by the kids and teachers here. They accomplish so much with so little in the way of resources.

Several people have asked in emails how my Bislama is coming along. I had a couple of low weeks and discouraging sessions with trainers when I was told that my grammar is good but my vocabulary needs a lot of work. I gradually came to realize that, yes, my vocabulary is smaller than it should be, but that is more easily remedied than bad grammar. So, I do not despair. I talked with the class 4 students at the school on Wednesday. They asked me to talk in Bislama rather than English and I seemed to be communicating with them fairly effectively. I took that as a positive sign. Basically, I have been cheating a bit with my Bislama when I talk to English-speakers like my trainers. For example, one trainer asked me, as part of my test, to describe my house in Florida. I used the term “family room” because I knew my trainer would understand it when I should have taken the time to explain what a family room is. That is not a phrase or concept that is readily understood in Vanuatu. So here’s a little sample of Bislama. (I should probably ask one of my trainers to look it over and make sure it’s acceptable but you guys won’t know the difference anyway. :) )

Las Sundei naet, mitrifala trainee i bin mekem piza blong ol host famly blong mitrifala. Lefou (LAY-fow) (aka Katie) wetem Turtong (aka Sandy) wetem mi (Lairipu lay-rrrri-poo --my kastom name which means “woman farmer“) bin pem ol ingrediens long Port Vila long Satadei. Mitrifala i bin pem floao mo yist mo tomato mo capsicum mo salami mo jis blong mekem siks piza. Mitrifala i bin kuk ol piza long oven blong bred mo hemi bigfala oven. Olgeta 6 piza fitim insaed long oven long sem taem. Ol host famly blong mitrifala oli laekem piza blong mitrifala tumas. Olgeta oli askem mitrifala mekem piza bekagen nara taem.

Translation: “Last Sunday night, three of us trainees made pizza for our host families. Katie, Sandy, and I bought the ingredients in Port Vila on Saturday. We bought flour, yeast, tomatoes, peppers, salami, and cheese to make 6 pizzas. We cooked the pizzas in the bread oven and it’s a big oven. All 6 pizzas fit inside at one time. Our host families really liked the pizza. They asked us to make it again another time.”

There is a lot of English in Bislama. The challenge is the limited vocabulary. It makes a language that was developed TO BE functional, really inconvenient to use.

The pizza part is a true story and here’s another one. One morning before I left for school, there was a great uproar of dogs in the backyard. I went back there to get some hot water from the kitchen and discovered that several of the chief’s pigs (I learned they were his pigs later) had escaped from their pen and the dogs were trying to herd/corral them for the chief. I think the dogs got a little carried away (there must have been 5 or 6 of them chasing the pig) because several of them bit into various parts of the pig, supposedly to hang on to it and not just because their primitive selves got the better of them. (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here.) Anyway, the dogs were barking and growling and yelping and charging through the grass after the pigs that were snorting and squealing and charging through the grass, all of them being chased by two men with sticks who were yelling and shouting at the pigs and dogs, and there were several mamas in the kitchen watching the chaos and shouting encouragements and directions and laughing at the men and the dogs and the pigs. And then, as the roiling mass of animals passed by my host father’s pig pen, one of the bigger pigs inside the fence decided to enter the fray. It used one of the other pigs in the pen as a ramp and leaped over the fence to get at the dogs. And the mamas started laughing even harder and the men shouted louder and now there were two big pigs instead of one big pig and it was a wild couple of minutes.

I'm sorry there are no pictures this time. I tried to upload a couple and in 15 minutes, none of my pictures has appeared. I don't have any more time today. I'll try again another day.

Many thanks to those of you who have been emailing and sending packages. It makes a huge difference to be able to hear what is going on in your lives and not feel so cut off! Miss you all. I'll write again when I get the chance--not sure when that will be!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Life in PST

Me in my "aelan dres," a gift from my host parents. This is my host mother, Anies.

Two weeks in our training village have flown by. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, quite anxious to meet our host families and get a first look at the village. And our first action was to walk back out of the village so we could be properly welcomed. The boys in the village had planned a traditional welcome and, as we walked back into the village, they stormed out of the bushes dressed in custom camouflage (bushes and twigs wrapped around their bodies) and brandishing sticks. It was a bit unnerving actually. After terrifying us properly, they led us to meet the chief. Our host mamas formed a receiving line and we all got bussed on both cheeks and a lei without knowing which mother belonged to which trainee.
The village itself is mostly corrugated metal houses or cinderblock homes with corrugated roofs. There are about 30 compounds and 260 people. My host family has been wonderful. My host father, Sael, is quite the entrepreneur. He owns a tour bus, a taxi, a stereo system that he rents out for parties, and is building a tourist bungalow on the beach nearby. We have electricity at night by generator and water in the house. He is working on an indoor bathroom, complete with flush toilet, but it isn’t finished yet.
My mama, Anies, has been really patient with me as I practice my Bislama. It takes me 2 minutes to figure out how to phrase my idea and several false starts to actually get it out. However, I understand most of what is said to me so that’s progress. What is need is a lot of written practice to get the words and rhythms into my head. Bislama is, in many ways, a very simple language. The vocabulary is fairly limited and many words have English roots or they’re exactly the same. The sentence structure is straightforward though it takes some getting used to. There are no possessives in Bislama. You have to say “the house that belongs to me” anytime you want to say “my.” “Haos blong me hemi naransaed long solwater.” It can make for some very long sentences!
I have three host brothers and sisters: Juliette is 13 and attends French school. She is quite bright and hopes to pass her examinations next year to get into secondary school. Places in secondary schools in Vanuatu are very limited so the 8th class year is known as the “push out” because many students don’t score well enough on their examinations to earn a place. Gloria is 8 and also attends French school, but in the village, and Micah is 4 and has a mind of his own. He will go to English school beginning in January.
It is hard to explain how quickly the extraordinary becomes routine but after two weeks, I am taking some things for granted. I still don’t like using the “smal haos” but I’m used to the food and walking everywhere and dodging the mangoes that are falling from the trees and sitting on the ground or hard benches (not many cushions around) and brushing my teeth at the outdoor spigot and waving the flies off of my dinner and the dogs and the chickens and the pigs and . . . . .
Actually, our village is pretty spiffy. I think every compound has a water tap so no hauling water. Lots of families have generators. There’s a wide variety of food available because the families have gardens, we’re right near the ocean for fishing, and the capital city is close by for any extras. During the first week of November, we will go on “wokabaot” to visit our permanent sites. It will be another transition, I think, to an even simpler way of living. It all depends . . . . Actually, it sounds like some of us may end up in slightly more developed areas because we’ll be working with provincial directors and not just with individual schools. The head honchos at Peace Corps haven’t told anyone their sites but we’re supposed to find out next week.
We have classes every week day--Bislama lessons first, then sessions on the education system in Vanuatu, presentations by people in the education ministry here, presentations about Vanuatu’s economy and areas for growth, sessions on how to write lesson plans J , disucssions with current volunteers about secondary projects, presentations about what to do in case of cyclone . . . volcanic eruption . . . . landslide . . . . bush fire . . . . etc, etc, etc. The best classes though are the practical ones. Yesterday, we learned how to make mango jam and coconut jam. We also spent one afternoon building fires, scraping and squeezing coconut for the cream, killing chickens, and making “simboro,” a traditional dish made from manioc.
I am getting more excited and more nervous about my permanent site--how will I be received (sometimes the village doesn’t know you’re coming!), whether it will be easy to find projects or whether I will have to invent them, what my village will be like. We visited two schools today and have talked with a variety of people who could offer us some insight on what the future might hold. The challenges sound enormous but there is also so much potential for growth and improvement.
I've got to sign off--time to head for the office and the bus ride back to the training village. I'll try to get more pictures on next time. Check again in two weeks!