Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Last Chance Cafe

Actually, it's the Natangura Cafe in Luganville, Santo, but it represents my last chance to post the pictures. I return to Ambae today at lunch time, just in time to meet three volunteers from Maewo who will be staying with me for a few days before heading off to other places.

My presentation to the upper eschelon of kindy (pre-school) administration is done, for better or worse. It is always difficult to plan a workshop/presentation when you know it is a topic they have heard at least once before but you have no idea what activities or what materials they already have. Fred, the kindy cooridnator for Penama was pleased with what I had prepared but when it came time for the actual presentation, most of the attendees were having a difficult time staying awake. The session did take place right after lunch so maybe everyone was fighting that natural after-dinner snooze, but the ladies and gentlemen from Vanuatu did not enjoy their lunch of spaghetti with meat sauce so I don't know how full they actually were. I don't know what the explanation is and I haven't had the courage to ask. There were several positive comments about activities and the phonics review so I'll have to hang my reputation on those and a heavy lunch. ;)

Mom told me that lots of people have been asking what Mai will be doing while I'm in the states. She will be staying with my host family for that time, going to the garden, eating lots of chicken bones, and getting spoiled by my host mother. People in Vanuatu have a very different perspective toward dogs. Here dogs are like any other farm animal without the usefulness. Their only real purpose in Vanuatu is to run pigs and to eat the garbage, compounded by the fact that there are no population control measures for the dogs and cats. "Pets" are a luxury that most people here can not afford yet and everybody has a dog and cat living around their house whether they want them or not just because of the constant supply of puppies. However, my host family treats Mai very well. My host mom taught her to "karem i kam" (bring) which is very helpful since Mai has developed the habit of running off with one of my shoes when she thinks it's time to leave. And I even spotted my host father petting her the other day. She's still pretty leery of my host brothers but they're not quite sure what to do with her either so it's reciprocal.

I'm sorry this is such a mediocre post. The pictures refuse to load and they were going to be my theme. I'll be home mid-December though, so I should be able to do it then. Look for the pictures next time.

Time to go--my taxi will be here soon.
Bon karea

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Luganville, Santo

I had the opportunity to come to Luganville to do part of a workshop/conference for the provincial kindy (pre-school)coordinators of Vanuatu. There are six provinces so six coordinators plus 4 women from the central office in Vila. The conference will last all week; I only get one afternoon. Tomorrow afternoon, I will be doing a very brief presentation on literacy activities for kindy classes with an emphasis on phonics. I spent most of last week trying to translate all of the material into Bislama and then Fred and I (Fred is the coordinator for Penama province) spent all of Friday making corrections to my Bislama. I spent part of my day with my host family writing down a custom story in the language of East Ambae, dictated by my host father and will spend this evening turning that story into a book made with cardboard boxes. It's so nice to have a project!

I arrived in Santo this morning, without a ticket (the Ambae airport had run out of paper tickets), unsure of where the conference was being held, without a specific date for my presentation (Monday afternoon or Tuesday afternoon?), and without a copy of my plans (the office printer/copier is broken so Fred had to carry a digital version to Santo early to print and make copies). However, I now have an . . . OK place to stay and a semi-definite presentation time. Progress.

Luganville is much smaller than Vila and most of the shops were closed for lunch when I started walking around but other volunteers have told me that you can still get a lot of things here--faux cheese, pasta, canned vegetables, etc. The really nice part is that you can arrange to have one of the stores here send you groceries via cargo ship without having to come in person. I'm hoping to get the details about that while I'm here. When things are sent from Santo, it's same-day delivery too! (i.e. the cargo arrives the same day that the ship leaves, not the same day you buy or order supplies)

I don't have a lot of new pictures but I do have some from the Tanna trip that are pretty great. I will try to get those posted while I'm here.

Bon Karea

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Feast or Famine


One of our “senior” volunteers was sharing an observation the other day that life in Vanuatu is either feast or famine. Since then I have had the chance to reflect on my own experiences here and see how true that can be, in so many areas.

I think all agricultural/farming societies or families are more accustomed to gardening feasts and famines than I am. My garden provides a continual source of island cabbage but all of the other plants are growing in their typical cycle. You wait weeks for beans and then you have more beans than you can use for a few weeks and then they’re gone again. There are several taro plants growing, but it will be close to year before they’re ready. I tried to plant tomato seeds in several phases so that, if the weather cooperates, the tomato plants will mature at different times. But the seedlings are taking much longer to grow than I expected. At the market, sometimes you can get loads of taro but there are no other choices. Then kumala comes into season and there is all-you-can-eat kumala for 3 weeks but no other choices.

There is no produce section at the nearby grocery store to provide vegetables in the off season. But the feast-famine cycle happens in other things too. For a long time, there was nothing to do and now there is plenty, augmented by the obstacles that make every task take longer than you expected. I am sure that there will come a time when, once again, there is nothing to do and I will be whiling away the hours at work with crossword puzzles and computer games. Right now, however, I either have a school to visit or sizeable to-do list to tackle each day. (And what a pleasure it is! ©)

Mail also tends to arrive in big bunches. Three weeks will pass without any letters and then 6 or 7 are delivered on the same day. If I had a little self-control, I would read one letter every couple of days to spread them out. But I can’t wait to find out what has been happening in everyone’s lives so I feast on letters for a day and go without until the next batch comes. Fortunately, I can reread the letters so it’s not a total fast.

For months, I will not get a visitor or see another volunteer. And then a wave of activity begins. Last Friday, Sheridan and Justin from Maewo stayed with me one night on their way to Vila. The next day, Krissy and Javi arrived in Lolowai, where they will be staying for 2 or 3 months. (They are working with the province’s health administrators to prepare the province for some new PC community health volunteers.) The next weekend, I walked around to their house for dinner and talk. It was a little bit of a special occasion because Thomas, one of the volunteers from West Ambae (which might as well be another island, as hard as it is to get from one side to the other), had come for the weekend. A day later, Justine, another volunteer from Maewo, stayed with me for a night so she could catch the next day’s flight to Vila. The plane arrived to carry her away, and delivered Blake, the volunteer who lives on North Ambae. He is just returning from a few weeks in Vila. He will stay until a boat is heading north or he feels like making the trek home (a 5 or 6 hour walk). A group of missions-minded people is here as well, from New Zealand, and I had dinner with them last night. Next week, I am going to Malekula to visit so I will be gone when Meg and Beth, two volunteers from another agency who live on Maewo, pass through. (Their service is finished and they are heading home.) I will also miss the return of Justin and Sheridan, the two who started this chaos, and a site visit by one of my supervisors from Peace Corps. This litany of visits is very misleading, though, because once this frenzy of activity is over, there will be months of quiet again, without a single visitor. Everyone will have taken their spels and be content to stay at site for a while, so the time of famine will begin again. This is another facet of life in Vanuatu that requires some adjustment on my part, but it has been much easier to handle those dry spells because I know that they won’t last forever—a letter will arrive, some work will crop up, my tomatoes will eventually ripen. It’s a long-term lesson in delayed gratification. ©


I have recently returned from a short trip to Malekula where I stayed with another volunteer, Karen. The trip was a mixture of rest, socializing, and work. During the past few months, two Malekula volunteers have conducted several phonics workshops for teachers of classes 1-3 and had scheduled a similar workshop for teachers of classes 4-8 during the week I visited. They already had the groundwork laid for the workshop but we tried to add some additional information that was appropriate for the older students. Laura introduced each topic or concept because her Bislama is the best; Karen followed with an activity or model lesson; and then I finished the topic with some suggestions for how to make the activities more appropriate for older students or more challenging for students who have some phonics training. We’re hoping that the phonics work of the two PC groups before us is going to become evident for these class 4-8 teachers in the next couple of years as the students matriculate. Right now the teachers need basic training and activities, but eventually they’ll need more advanced activities or applications. We’re hoping!
Besides the opportunity to help with the workshop, it was great to visit another island in Vanuatu and have a chance to see what life is like just a hundred kilometers away. I thought I’d put a little bit in here about my visit to Pentecost, too, since I didn’t write anything about it at the time.

Pangi, Pentecost—island of land diving, as the provincial hymn says—has a lot more rivers and streams to contend with than East Ambae. The drive from Pangi to the airport only lasts about 30 minutes but we must have crossed 4 riverbeds in that time. When you’re only traveling 5 -10 miles an hour, that’s a lot of rivers. Pangi itself, like Saratamata, is a government center rather than a village in the traditional sense. It didn’t exist until the local branch of the provincial government set up shop. Most people who live there are actually from nearby villages and have come to Pangi to work. It is very close to the water and they have a beautiful, crescent- shaped sandbeach. In order to make or receive a phone call, you have to go down to the water but the scenery makes the inconvenience easy to bear. The village itself is quite wealthy, as villages go. There is cash from the government teacher salaries and there is cash from the tourism. While we were there to see the land diving ceremony, an enormous cruise ship from Australia anchored in the harbor and disgorged hundreds of tourists. It was strange to see all of those white people in one place—and the women and girls were in shorts! (Pass out the lavalavas so those ladies can cover up! It’s funny how quickly your sensibilities can adapt to new norms.) Maybe because of the money, maybe because the people want Pangi to look nice for visitors, maybe because it didn’t evolve the same way a familial village would, whatever the reason, I kept feeling like I was visiting an exhibit at Epcot Center. The grass was so green and short and tidy—no stray leaves or flowers lying around. The houses and buildings are mostly made from traditional materials (I kept having flashbacks to seventh grade geography, making a Pacific island custom house out of toothpicks, palm fronds, and a Styrofoam tray) rather than the cement that is most common here in Saratamata. The main pathways are lined with coral and sand and it just looks so pretty, so orderly, so. . . . exemplary.
[For what it’s worth, none of the other volunteers who were with me saw things quite the way I did. So my observations deserve some skepticism and I definitely require some additional travel to test out my perceptions. There may be a trip to Maewo at the end of July to celebrate the completion of renovations at a school, but no definite plans yet.]

In Pangi, my fellow volunteers and I lounged about for most of the three or four days we were there, choosing to spend our time eating and talking rather than tramping about, so I don’t know how Pangi compares to the villages around it. Next trip!

Norsup, Malekula—is also a provincial center where you can find the Provincial Education Office, the hospital, offices for the provincial government, offices for Youth Sports, etc. And yet there are also family communities interspersed throughout the area. The road that connects the airport, Lakatoro, and Norsup (the extent of my travels on Malekula) is quite curvy and passes around or through a lot of areas that feel rural/traditional. What makes them seem rural rather than urban? Many of the families choose to live in custom houses rather than build a house of cement so, aesthetically, certain areas are very traditional. However, though so many people chose to use custom materials to build their houses, almost everyone has also chosen to hook up to the power source in Norsup (available 24-7!) so it’s not exactly ‘bush.’

One night Karen and I went to her host family’s house for dinner. Karen asked her ‘sister’ to make laplap sorsor for me as a special treat. (Laplap sorsor is unique to Malekula.) Laplap takes a long time so it is usually saved for the weekends, but Sister Doric made one for us on a weekday so I could try it. Delicious! It was manioc laplap with a layer of island cabbage on top, then a scattering of beef. Before you wrap it all up in leaves to bake, you put a few lava stones inside to help cook the meat. Once it comes out of the earth oven and gets unwrapped, you squeeze coconut milk over the hot stones and meat. It was wonderful—comfort food Malekula style. Karen told me later that my appetite was the topic of conversation the following Sunday; I just kept eating and eating and eating. Her ‘mama’ thought I was finished but then I’d ask for another piece.

Anyway, as we walked back to Karen‘s house that night, a weird mix of memory and impression and imagination made it a strange trip. It was so dark. The sky was overcast so there was no moonlight to light the path. We were carrying flashlights, of course, but every once in a while, there would be another patch of light, just off the path, through the trees. I was remembering family camping trips, where you could get away from the streetlights and store signs. When we were camping, the patches of light came from lanterns set on picnic tables where families were playing Boggle or Yahtzee (or was that just my family?). But there was also a lot of room for imagination and feeling a little like a visitor to this exotic locale. Like scenes from an old movie where the missionary or trader is following his “native guide” through the bush. Picture an old Tarzan movie or African Queen. Wrong location but right atmosphere. And then the reality, that these glimmers of light came from fluorescent lights hanging from trees or poles, lighting up a family’s everyday dinner. Nothing out of the ordinary for them. It was strange to have all of these impressions mingling in my head as we walked home through the dark, but the aftertaste is distinctly Michener-esque. Very romantic.

I have to admit to being a little dissatisfied now with Saratamata. I thought life was pretty fias here with indoor plumbing and electricity for parts of the day and 3 stores and cold drinks. But Norsup/Lakatoro is a whole new level of fias living. I base this almost entirely on the availability of food, but that is an important factor to consider. They do have power all of the time (even in the middle of the night!), but the food, oh, the food. The stores there have lots of cuts and amounts of beef for sale—stew, steak, mince, etc. There are crabs at the market (Twelve crabs for 200 vatu! That’s about $2 US) and fish in a traveling truck. I found canned corn and green beans, canned lentils, spices like fennel and cinnamon, lots of different biscuits (aka cookies), and faux cheese (like Velveeta). The cheese was really expensive, though. Almost $6 for a small package—that hurts. And the mama’s market was full of produce—lettuce (lettuce!), tomatoes, capsicum, spring onions, watercress, pamplemus (grapefruit), mandarins, coconuts, taro, kumala, manioc, yams, strong bananas, all at the same time! It was wonderful. I loaded up a bag full of goodies to bring back with me—crabs and mandarins to share with my host family and spring onions for me to plant in the garden.

Now I understand why there is always a live chicken in a basket or a yam wrapped up in a palm leaf waiting to go in the airplane’s cargo hold. Some things just aren’t available in some places and family members on other islands have to look out for you. I know that there are people growing a lot of those things here in East Ambae, but they are growing them to EAT rather than to sell so I am out of luck. However, a local businessman is in the process of erecting a market house in Saratamata. I don’t know all the details yet but I am hoping that it will encourage some of the farming families nearby to plant a few extra feet of garden so they can sell the surplus produce at the market. And East Ambae is too dry for some of the juicier items—tomatoes have to be watered and there are no wet areas for planting watercress or lettuce.

Whatever the differences between islands or villages, everywhere I’ve gone, the people share some basic characteristics—they are interested in you, friendly, generous, and wonderfully hospitable. You never leave someone’s house empty handed and you never feel like you intruded or interrupted even though you may have done exactly that. In my experience, the people of Vanuatu are never too busy to stop and chat. Sometimes that can be extremely frustrating, like when you’re waiting for the truck to carry you to the airport or for someone to arrive so a meeting can begin. But most of the time, it’s very refreshing and an important reminder that people can and should come before schedules.


While visiting Karen on Malekula, I was struck by the surreal quality of various comments made by various volunteers. In the setting, in the moment, they were entirely natural and commonplace. Taken out of context, put into the more familiar setting of everyday life in the US, they become absolutely ridiculous.
For example.
--Spoken in a tone of wonder -- “You can get lettuce here?”
--The secretary talking to Karen 2 days before our workshop-”Your workshop is cancelled because another government office just requested the room.” (We found another venue.)
--Discussing routine travel arrangements for the workshop—”Laura is going to stand out by the road so she can catch a truck to Norsup.”
--Any given day—”There will not be power today.”
--Sandy, a Maewo volunteer, and Esther (ES ta) who cooks at one of the food stalls here in Saratamata— “What’s in the stew?” “Bullock.” “Real bullock?” “Where are you from?”
--Any given office—“No copying or printing because we’re out of toner until August.”
--The executive officer for our office commenting on the electric bill for my house—”One two hundred vatu blong wan manis? Hemia sas we!” (One thousand two hundred vatu I About $12 a month? That’s too much!)
--On a school report for the Ministry—”We began school two weeks after the official start date because the students didn’t come. By February 12, we had enough students to begin.”
--A health official about an imminent, government-sponsored inoculation campaign—”The team will arrive either Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. I’m not sure which day.” (Today is Friday and still no sign of the inoculation team.)
--Our office secretary to me—”You didn’t know Blake [the volunteer in N. Ambae] in the US? The people from your town don’t know the people from his town?”
--Me to Mami Doreen—”How can you tell it’s a woman crab?”
--Karen about one of our dinners—”This is wonderful. It’s like real black bean soup!” (It was pretty delicious even though our salsa was made with canned tomatoes and whatever we could find to spice it up and the sour cream was actually yogurt.) -

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

THESE DAYS.... I am keeping busy! Yahoo!. Yes, some of the busy is the repetition that is necessary here to accomplish even small jobs. But I am thankful to have those small jobs to do. I spend two days a week doing school visits. One of the schools is close enough to walk to and I have been there fairly regularly (Thursdays). This is the school where I team-taught a class 7 English unit oh, so many months ago. Lately, I have been visiting and teaching class 6. Last Monday, I taught a 2-hour English lesson introducing a new unit on the environment ( © ) and demonstrating some of the Ministry of Education’s proposals and strategies to boost literacy. It was such a luxury to have 2 hours for English and I was able to follow the Ministry’s suggested timeframe for balancing all the different skills that come with language/literacy. We spent the first 30 minutes talking as a class—discussing what they knew about the environment already from their studies in science (the environment is a popular/important topic here as the people of Vanuatu figure out how to deal with all of the changes that development brings). The first part of the timeframe is for conversation so that they have to USE their English, USE the new vocabulary, get comfortable talking about each topic from the curriculum. (It is a little strange, though, because most of the topics are actually from other school
subjects—”Japan” and “Investigation” and “Radio Communication.”) Then 60 minutes for reading skills: new vocabulary words from the text, reading the text aloud (“The Peril of Plastics”), comprehension questions, rereading the text with special emphasis on those vocabulary words, and some more questions. We finished with a short group writing topic. I didn’t like the way the essay ended (no conclusion to speak of) so we wrote a conclusion paragraph for the essay. Then still time for some rhyming practice and to assign a group project (part of each English unit in their curriculum) for the week. It went pretty well. Actually, it would have gone better if I’d realized that their break started at 9:30 instead of 10:00. The kids were very patient with me that last half hour as I pressed on with English right through their break! The following Thursday, I observed the class 6 teacher as he led an English lesson. It’s hard to say what effect I had since I wasn’t able to observe him before I model-taught but it’s a start. He has had some literacy/phonics training; he just wasn’t sure how to incorporate it into the curriculum. Today, I returned to class 6 for a math lesson. This was actually my second 2-hour math lesson. Last week at the other sort-of-close-up school, the class 5 teacher asked me to model a math lesson. He asked me at 10 and the lesson began at 10:30. Half hour for an English/social studies teacher to figure out how to teach a math lesson about converting metric measurements into decimals. Step 1, throw out most of the textbook exercises because they are too complicated. (The teachers are, in my opinion, severely handicapped by the math curriculum, which uses spiraling to teach math. So Monday, it introduces an operation concept (multiplying double digits), Tuesday is geometry (how to draw a cube), Wednesday is measurement (converting metric measures to decimals), Thursday is fractions (adding of) and Friday is something else again. There might be 5 problems for each topic on any given day. It’s crazy. Anyway, we started with a review of how the measurements fit together (millimeters, centimeters, decimeters, meters, etc.) and then a review of place values and then some easy relationship in decimals and yikes, it was hard. By then end of 2 hours, the kids were able to figure centimeters and meters, meters and kilometers in both directions as decimals. Were they able to do it agaln the next day? I have no idea. They probably didn’t get the chance since the math curriculum introduced something new. Ah well. One step forward.... ‘the math lesson today was just as challenging for me—percents, capital, and interest. The first question in the textbook asked the students “How much interest do you earn on 395,000 vatu in a year with 6% interest?” The FIRST question! So I wrote a bunch of prep questions to use during our first hour and a half and we saved that beauty and all of its follow up questions for the last half hour. I was very glad that all of you mathematics teachers were not present to see my classroom struggles, but where were you when I was desperately planning my lesson?! Doing a single math lesson is hard here too because you can’t assume the kids know the pre-requisites for your topic, like how many centimeters in a meter. When you have to go back that far to find out what they know, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for the new material. It has been nice to get back into the classroom as a teacher, though. After the long hiatus and the couple of brief returns to middle school teaching, I have started to reevaluate my 10 years of teaching in the states. Now, I am anxious to compare my experiences teaching the teachers with my experiences teaching kids. There is a good chance that this Friday, I will have the chance to do that. I am supposed to do a short workshop session for the teachers at the nearby school. I am hopeful that it will actually happen though I won’t count on it until I’m actually standing up in front of the room on Friday afternoon and all the teachers are present.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

After a little trouble with my flash drive (the folder with all of the pictures disappeared somehow), I have been able to post a whole bunch of pictures from the last few months. And I made sure to include a couple of pictures of myself, as per request.

This is the first workshop I did. It was a joint effort with two other volunteers while I was visiting on Malekula. Laura is just finishing her service (on the left) and Karen arrived at the same time as me. About 25 teachers attended and it went pretty well except that we had to change venues at the last minute (pre-empted by the tourism department) and our new site didn't have any tables.


This picture is from my first solo workshop on assessment. The curriculum advisor for the zone and I drove about 30 minutes south to one of the schools in his zone and I spent the morning talking about too many aspects of assessment for the amount of time available, but it's a start. (Notice the bare feet.)

One of my earlier blogs contained some references to the kinds of food available here in Vanuatu, and especially on Ambae. I may not have access to lots of different ethnic or regional varieties but I do still have access to take away. Every Sunday afternoon, my host mama wraps up some dinner in a leaf and I carry it home to eat later.

At the top of the picture is a fried fish and the rectangular objects with white "frosting" is banana laplap with krim blong kokonas antap.

A Vila sunset.

I reposted this one as a "before" picture.

And here's Mai, all grown up. She doesn't really fit in my lap anymore but she thinks she does.

An early garden shot---

And a bit more recent, though the cabbage is now about shoulder height, I have two bean "trees," and some very small tomato and pepper plants where the brown grass is. I've also cleared a bit more space for lettuce and spinach plants, though the chickens got to my first spinach seeds before they could sprout.

Jane and me--she was our medical officer when we arrived though she has moved on to other things now. A sad day for us here in Vanuatu.

Some of my co-workers. The two men on the right, in the reddish shirts, are ZCAs (zone curriculum advisors, like superindents) and work in the office in Saratamata. The man in the green shirt is a visiting workshop facilitator and the man in the foreground was the ZCA for Maewo, though he passed away suddenly about 3 weeks ago.

These are the class 5 kids at the close-up school. I try to get there every Thursday and this particular day, I ended up substitute teaching. We did a math lesson on finding area and a general studies/health lesson on the nervous system. My brother Wilson has his back to the camera.

This is a group photo taken after a workshop at the office. Can you find me?

The education office in Saratamata, newly refurbished, and it is nice. It's about a 2 minute walk from my house. And here's a funny change for me--I am now, almost always, the first one to arrive at work in the morning!

Fourth of July celebration. For a few months, there was a PC couple living in Lolowai, about 30 minutes walk from Saratamata. They hosted a 4th of July party for our host families and some of the hospital staff. We each gave a small toktok about how we celebrate Independence Day in the US and we sang the national anthem for everyone. Hamburgers and baked beans and caramel corn were on the menu in addition to the breadfruit laplap that the mamas brought.

One of the things I love about Vanuatu is the mamas--they have no reluctance to participate in the games and activities that adults in the US would consider too childish. It's so fun to watch them laugh and giggle while tossing water balloons or bobbing for naos.

These guys are trying to bob for naos, though it was really difficult. Naos are harder and slippery-er than apples so we ended up cutting them into wedges. Wilson, my youngest brother, is in the black and red shirt.

A few months ago, I had the chance to go to a custom wedding for my cousin Alphine. It was so interesting to see the similarities in wedding traditions and the many differences that are unique not just to Vanuatu, but to Ambae.

Alphine is sitting down and the mamas are piling a few really fancy custom mats on her head. She has a big palm leaf first, I think to help support the weight and to keep the mats stiff. And then 3 or 4 mats are laid on top. The fringes hang down in front and behind and act like a bridal veil.

This is at the groom's house. (Actually the groom is from another island, so one of Alphine's uncles adopted him for the day so that the complete ceremony could be done.)
Anytime an official gift is given, the recipient must at least touch the item in thanks or as an acknowledgement. For big gifts, like the bride price or dowry, the aunts or uncles (your father's sisters and sisters-in-law or your mother's brothers and brothers-in-law) walk around the pile of gifts three times. In this picture, Alphine's uncles and cousins are carrying mats from her dowry as they walk around the bride price gifts. It actually made me laugh because each man was holding the end of the mats in front of him to keep them off the ground but it reminded me of elephants on parade.

It was very hot that day and Alphine began to look very wilted after a while, but she posed for my picture.

The groom puts his hand on Alphine to acknowledge or "receive" her from her family.

The mamas carry the mats to the pile on their heads. I grabbed my camera quickly when they first started coming but the flow of women didn't stop. I had ample opportunity to take a picture as Alphine's mamas carried their gifts to the pile.
There was also a huge pile of household goods, like the items that we would give at a shower--a matress, dishes, pots for cooking, hurricane lanterns, rakes, suitcases, buckets and bowls.

This picture shows some of Alphine's mamas (her mother's sisters) laying out the mats that are part of her dowry. The tradition is that, when the groom's family piles up the mats from the bride price, the stack has to be higher.I asked my host mama about the mats because I've never seen one in use and she said that they are just given as gifts at custom ceremonies--chiefly grade-taking, weddings, funerals, etc. So my host mama brought 3 or 4 mats as part of the dowry, her gift to Alphine, and went home with 3 or 4 different mats, her share of the bride price.

Back to the groom's house--these are piles of goods that his family are giving as the bride price. They're divided into piles by parts of the family. So one pile goes to her straight mom and dad, one pile to her uncles and aunts, one pile to her mamas and papas, one pile to her abus (grandparents). That black blob in the foreground is a pig.

Land diving is a custom ceremony from Pentecost that is done at the beginning of the yam season. It is supposed to ensure a good harvest. These days, it's for the tourists as well. There was a huge cruise ship full of Australians there the same weekend we visited.

The tower and ropes are made entirely of natural materials. And there were 5 or 6 platforms on this particular tower. It can vary. The first jumper is usually a younger boy, 10-12 years old, and tradition says that if he doesn't jump (gets scared or whatever) no one jumps.

The men and women of the village dance all through the ceremony.

This was the first jumper the day we went. He's about 20 feet off the ground and about 12 years old.

Sandy on the beach in Pangi, the only place you can get phone reception. Not a bad phone booth!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Nature of Things - written June, 2009

On Thursday of the first week of June, the head teacher at the nearby primary school asked me to help him prepare a grant proposal. The purpose is to fund renovations at the school. Great idea, there’s a donor agency that will fund that kind of project, I’m more than happy to help. As a bonus, the provincial building and grounds officer for our office had already done an assessment of the buildings and we had a list of supplies/materials ready to go. Step (1)—check.

Step (2) was to send the list to a hardware store for an estimate; we needed to know how much money to ask for in the proposal. On Friday I made copies of the original supply list, wrote a cover letter, and prepared to fax the request to the hardware store on Santo for an estimate. However, our fax machine wasn’t working so I walked over to one of the stores, where a local entrepreneur provides a fax machine for people to use. He hadn’t arrived at the store yet so I returned the same day during tea break. The fax-man was there, but I needed a phone card to send the fax and the store was out of phone cards. I tried the two other stores but they were out as well. The next week I stayed in another village to attend a math workshop. I thought I had asked the secretary to send the fax for me while I was gone, but she either forgot or my Bislama got in the way and the end result was that the fax didn’t get sent during week 2. Week 3, I returned to the office Monday morning and asked about the fax. It was still sitting on the desk, only now the last page is missing. I need to recopy it but Michael, the man with the original, isn’t at work on Monday. Tuesday I am able to recopy the fax but there still are no phone cards. On Thursday, finally, I can send the fax off to the hardware store.

One week later, the estimate has not arrived. One very definite obstacle is that our fax machine is not working again and the hardware store only has the number for the office. So if they have been trying to send the estimate, they haven’t been able to get through to us. So I call them to give them the fax number for the machine at the store. The estimate is ready; a man at the store promises to send it out that afternoon. This morning, Friday, I walk over to the store to see if the fax arrived. It did, but the fax-man didn’t. He hasn’t come to the store yet so I will have to go back again later. It has taken 1 month to complete 1 simple step in a rather lengthy process. There is no telling when I will be able to cross “grant proposal” off my list of things to do.

Another example. The last week of April, one of the ZCAs and I discuss several projects he has in mind for the schools in his zone. One of his requests is that I prepare a workshop about writing tests. He wants the workshop to take place in June so the teachers have time to apply the ideas from the workshop in their mid-year assessments. We choose June 12 for the workshop and I make a flier to give to the teachers. I spend the first two weeks of May drafting the workshop. Then I attend a week-long Ministry-sponsored workshop on literacy that causes me to make some drastic changes to my plans. So I spend the fourth week of May revising and retooling the workshop based on those necessary changes. But during the last week of May, the Ministry of Education finalizes the dates for its math workshop. My Friday becomes their Friday so we have to reschedule. June 26 is the next Friday payday so we reschedule the workshop for the 26th• (Paydays are good for workshops because the teachers come to town to go to the bank so they’re here anyway.) I now have two more weeks to revisit my workshop plan and make some new changes based on the math workshop. (There are a lot of workshops and projects and methodologies being introduced to the teachers so I wanted my workshop to reinforce those ideas wherever possible rather than to feel like yet another new idea they have to implement.)

By the week of the 26th, I’m closing in on my plans and getting ready to do the visual aids. But our printer/copier has run out of toner so I can’t print or copy any of the materials I’ve prepared. We’ve ordered a new one, but it missed the flight to Ambae on Wednesday so no copying on Wednesday. This turns out to be a positive situation anyway because, during a brief conversation with the ZCA about the workshop, I realize that in all of my revisions and retooling, I’ve come a long way from his original intention for the workshop and I have to go back to plan A, literally. Fortunately, I saved my original workshop ideas so I don’t have to start over, but it is Wednesday noon, I am spending Thursday morning at a school and the workshop is Friday! Wednesday afternoon is hectic, but I make good progress. I come back to the office Thursday after lunch and we still don’t have the toner. It missed the flight again. The next flight from Santo is Friday at 3:00 so this means, even if it comes on the flight, it won’t arrive until after the workshop is over. So at 2:00 on Thursday afternoon, the ZCA decides to postpone the workshop. He calls all of the head teachers to tell them tomorrow’s workshop is off and the new date is July 23. Yes, the next Friday that is available is a month later.

On the bright side, now I don’t have to panic about getting everything ready in less than 24 hours. I have whole month to make the workshop as effective and efficient as possible. But on the dark side, the next date is a whole month later and who’s to say we won’t have to reschedule again. It was going to be my first workshop too so I was looking forward to it and now…

Procrastination plays a different role for me in Vanuatu. Having plenty of time and not enough to do means I have too much time to think about, make changes to, rewrite any kind of plans I make. And when I have limited time to get ready (as with this workshop that I had revised out of its true purpose), the procrastination adrenaline only kicks in about halfway because, deep down, I don’t really believe it’s going to happen. My “to do” list habits are also changing. My single list has morphed into 3: a personal, hobby-type list that includes gardening jobs, letters to write, crafty projects to do, housework, etc.; a work-related list of small tasks that can be completed (or at least attempted) in a day or two; and a long-range list that includes larger projects such as workshops and drafting teacher observation forms. Each long-range item usually has its own to do list as well. A bonus of having multiple lists is that I can work on my lists when I have exhausted all of the productive options. Take today, for instance. I need to call my program administrator at Peace Corps as well as the administrator for the community health program, but there is no phone reception for some reason. I will be teaching a 2-hour, 6th grade math lesson on Monday, but I already have a plan for that. My boss asked me to prepare a document for her on the computer, but I made a template for it weeks ago. She just wants some small alterations but she hasn’t had a chance to tell me this morning exactly what she’d like done so I am waiting for her to be free. I need to talk to two of the ZCAs about various projects (a second grant project and teacher evaluation forms) but they are both out and about and unavailable. So I go back to my to do lists to see if there’s anything else I can do, anything I need to add, or anything I can cross off because I’ve actually managed to complete a task. If I include “edit to-do lists” as one of my jobs each day, I might actually be able to cross something off the list once in a while. OK. I’m finished ranting for today. My friends at CCS middle school, this probably sounded very familiar to you. Different context--same tone. I don’t have a soap box or a captive audience here so I pound out my frustrations on the computer keyboard. ©

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Easter on Vanuatu

By the time this gets posted, Easter will be a month old but I thought I would share my weekend. It was a good one.
Good Friday morning started in the garden. There were weeds to pull, but I was also really excited about planting the tomato and bell pepper seedlings that I started in February. Eight tomatoes and 4 peppers sprouted, survived my occasional underwatering, escaped the mice, and were tall enough to plant. I won’t declare success until I’ve actually harvested a tomato or pepper, but I am sure that 4 days after planting they were already bigger. Vanuatu has miracle soil, I think. Unfortunately, none of my carrot, dill, spring onion, or parsley seeds sprouted. Disappointing. Then a quick, cold shower (the only kind I’ve got) and into my island dress for church. I attend an Anglican church here on Ambae, at an Anglican seminary that is about 10 minutes walk from my house. It has been a new experience for me, all the form and liturgy of the Anglican service, but the more I hear some of the regular responses the more I appreciate them. We follow the same order of worship/liturgy each week except for the readings and the sermon. And the Lord’s Supper is celebrated each week. This weekend, they had a Good Friday service which started at noon. A different brother spoke about each of Jesus’s statements from the cross. After each reading and reflection was a prayer. We were there for about 3 hours, I think it intended to symbolize the length of time that darkness descended on Calvary.
[On a linguistic level, it’s really interesting to go to church there. Students come to the seminary from all over Vanuatu so most of the service is in Bislama, but many of the novices and brothers have English Bibles. So from one Sunday to the next, one reader to the next, the scripture changes from Bislama (01 reading, maybe) to English MV (NT reading) to another version in English (gospel reading). And the priests will often switch from Bislama to English during the message if there’s a word they need.]
On Friday afternoon, I started to empty out the kitchen in preparation for a serious scrubbing—ceiling to floor needs an application of soap. My plan was to remove all the food and dishes and then put out some rat poison before doing the soapy-rag-over-every-surface cleaning either Saturday or Monday. That way the mice couldn’t undo my hard work with one scamper over the shelves and dishes. However, both of the (open) stores here in Saratamata were out of poison. A lady who works at one of the stores suggested the sticky traps but when I asked for one of those, they were gone too. So I spent the rest of the afternoon working on a crafty project instead. Can’t say I was disappointed.
**update, the hardly-ever-open store was open yesterday (a week later) so I picked up a packet of poison. I put it out last night and my conscience has been kicking me ever since. Not sure I can go through with it. Did you know that some kinds of poison require 4-7 days before the mice die? I’m not sure I can live with that. My animal care ethics have really undergone some serious testing here in Vanuatu. Between the pitiful dogs who all need better care and the really aggravating mice who are eating through everything not made of metal, I’ve had to stamp down many of my compassionate impulses. If I don’t, I’ll be running a charity home for 30 odd village dogs and any mice who care to take up residence.
Saturday morning I did laundry, which always takes awhile, made a couple of trips to various stores for various things in between the rain showers, and finished the book I was reading. And in the afternoon, it was raining again so I felt perfectly free to stay inside and lounge about with my project.
Easter morning began very, very early. Church was scheduled to begin at 3:00 am. I still haven’t figured out why. We didn’t actually start on time (usual for Vanuatu but not so typical of Tumsisiro. The seminary services typically begin right on time.) When I arrived at 2:45, the novices were just gathering for a pre-service devotion. There were several people from Saratamata there already so we went into church for the devotion and then came back out to prepare for the service. We started with a fire, which the priest blessed. (Why?—I have a lot of questions about the Anglican service/tradition, things where I don’t understand the purpose or the history or the symbolism. Maybe I’ll post that list as another blog and someone out there who has some knowledge about the Anglican Church can fill me in.) Then we were all given candles and we processed into the church. (I considered the possibility that the early start was for the candlelit procession but it was dark enough for that at 5 or 5:30 too.) There were several reading and prayer cycles again, similar to Friday’s service, but after the special Easter things, we started the regular Sunday liturgy. (The sun rose while we were in church so I thought maybe this was a sunrise service? But we didn’t actually watch the sun rise; it just got light while we were in church.) So church lasted about 3 hours again.
Afterwards, the novices and brothers invited everyone to stay for tea so my host mother and I stayed. It took about an hour for them to prepare the food (crackers and bread and fruit) and drinks but nobody seemed to notice. The novices sang several songs for us while we were eating and that was wonderful.
They always sing in several parts and with great enthusiasm. I was really disappointed that I hadn’t brought my camera. I would have recorded a song or two. Maybe next time.
I got home at about 9 am and took a short nap. After that Mai and I spent the day with my host family. We scratched bananas for lap lap, which takes a while to bake, and then had rice and fried fish for lunch. After lunch one of my brothers shot a wild pig so they butchered and cooked the pig for supper. Yum. It was a good supper on Sunday, though mine was to-go. I usually walk back to Saratamata in the late afternoon while it is still light out. That way no one needs to walk me home. So my host mama wrapped up two pieces of lap lap (one kumala and one banana) with a fried fish left from lunch, some pig, and a chicken wing in a couple of leaves and tied it with the stem and I ate it later that night. That much protein is pretty unusual but is always welcome.
Monday was a rainy day again so I baked a lemon cake (the chocolate cake mix here is really terrible but the lemon is quite good) and worked on my project and went to the beach to talk to my parents (the cell tower on Ambae is not working at the moment so I have to walk down to the beach where I can get reception from the tower on Pentecost) and gave Mai a bath (which she did not enjoy) and washed the rugs and basically puttered about all day. It was a lovely weekend. Rainy and a little cooler (winter is approaching) and slow but with a few necessary chores to add a sense of purpose. © I hope that all of you had a blessed and refreshing weekend too.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Feast or Famine

You wait three months for an update and then two appear within two weeks. Sorry for the irregularity, but I've got to take advantage of the technology I can get. I'm in Vila for about 10 days and wanted to take the opportunity to post some pictures of my site.

So here's the grand tour of my new life in Saratamata. These are pictures of my new house--cement walls and floors, 4 rooms with an indoor shower and toilet, screens in the windows, and furniture. It doesn't get much better than this. The small square thing to the right of the house is my rainwater storage tank. That's where I get my drinking/cooking water.

The indoor picture is of my dining room and kitchen. There are lots of windows and lots of light. The only thing not pictured is the mouse that has built a nest in the small wall with the window and the ants that are EVERYWHERE!
This is my favorite restaurant in Saratamata. No black bean burritos, but they do usually offer a choice between two meals--chicken wings in a sauce or minced beef in a sauce or an omelet on top of sauce, always served with rice and some island food like lap lap or boiled taro.
Underneath is a picture of my walk to school. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the local school and this is what the trip looks like. The only difference is that some parts are shady because different kinds of trees have grown up and over the path. About 20 kids walk this each day to go to school.

Our New Year's Day celebration included a trip to the garden antap to escape the heat and flies. Two of my host brothers are facing the camera, the other boy is a cousin of sorts, and the woman in front is my brother's fiance. They are beating roasted breadfruit with sticks dipped in coconut milk. A great treat here, though I will admit that I prefer the breadfruit just roasted. Yum.

To the left is the nakamal (or gathering place) that my extended family built in the middle of their village. We had Christmas dinner here and it was quite a large group of people. Almost all of the decorations were plants and flowers that they had cut and tied to the posts and beams, supplemented by a few balloons. It was very festive. My boss (and aunt-by-marriage) is on the right.

Here's a picture of my strait (immediate) host family with a few cousins thrown in for good measure. My host papa is on the left, then a cousin, then my host mama behind and my sister in front. A cousin (attending the Anglican seminary on the island) behind and two more brothers on the end.
And below is a picture of their house. Very flas. They too have screens and cement floors and walls and a generator which they use for watching movies and music videos.
Something that I find really cool is that their land is covered with fruit and nut trees. They grow almost everything they eat and a lot of it is right around the house.
A new house is going up to the left of the family
house--a custom house for one of my brothers.
They were working on the inside walls when I left and still need to harvest the bamboo for the
outside walls but the roof and floor were finished.

And introducing Mai. This was taken either at the end of January or the beginning of February. She has at least doubled in size. I can still lift her but she doesn't fit in my lap anymore.
She survived the flight to Vila though she did escape her cardboard box during one leg of the journey. She gave the cargo guy quite a shock.
She has been to the vet this week and is now de-ticked, de-fleaed, de -wormed, and de-feminized. It's a whole new world. I picked her up yesterday night so she could spend the weekend with me and she has been quite a hit with the other volunteers in my group. Everyone tells me how sweet she is and I have to admit that I agree.

In Saratamata, I attend an Anglican church.
Originally, my host family and I attended a small church in their village but the roof is a mess and now we all go to the seminary. It's a short walk, church begins at 7:00 am, and it's usually quite full because all of the seminary students are in attendance. The service is in Bislama because the students come from all over Vanuatu and the singing is incredible. I think one of the first classes the novices attend is the choral element of the service because they sing in 3 or 4 parts. Lovely.

Just below is a picture of the harbor. This is about a 30 minute walk from my house but I don't usually get the view because that requires a 30 minute walk UP rather than AROUND.

These two pictures are of my host family's garden antap and then of my fledgling garden behind the house. Just for contrast. The plants you see along the "path" are manioc plants and they're about shoulder high.

My plants are island cabbage, newly planted. I meant to take another picture right before I left because the view has changed a little. It is a now a large verdant cluster of bushes just waiting to be harvested. And my tomato and pepper plants are ready to go into the ground too. Very exciting.

And that's the tour. I hope you enjoyed your visit. Come back anytime; we're always open.

My plan is to write another update and send it home. That will take about 3 weeks so there should be a new update at the end of April. My parents and I are trying to work out a system so that the updates are a little more evenly spaced.
Thanks to all of you for keeping in touch. I always enjoy your letters and hearing the news from home.
Miss you!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

UPDATE - written 27 ab 2009, posted 3.12.09

Hello, everyone! I'm sorry it has been so long since my last update. Technically speaking, it should have been another month before I was able to post anything new, but my parents have offered to type in a more regular update as long as I'm willing to write it and mail it home. So hopefully we'll get into a monthly-ish pattern. I do have access to a computer here but it's most useful for saving pictures, playing computer games and music, and watching movies. Internet access is . . . . limited. Right now the landline phones are down again - I think out of 7 weeks that I've lived in Saratamata, we've had phones for about 10 days. When we do have phone lines, the access is dial up and anyway the office stresses "official work" on the internet rather than personal use so I'm dependent on regular mail for communication these days. I do have a cell phone I can use to call home and call the PC office and talk with other volunteers so I'm not totally cut off, but my communication techniques are limited to those available, say 20 years ago. I will be back in Port Vila for a week or so with the rest of my group at the end of March for a Peace Corps meeting/training session. I'll try to put up some pictures that week.

It's funny how quickly life begins to feel "everyday" even though so many parts are truly extraordinary. Sometimes, when thinking about writing letters, I find myself thinking, "There's nothing new to write about, nothing to tell." Ridiculous. Even the routine things like house work and my community and my job are different from, or at least I have to do them differently than, in the U.S. So I thought I would spend some time describing a few of the "normal, everyday' elements of my days here in Vanuatu.

Sleeping under my mosquito net - I use the possessive here on purpose; I am quite attached to my mosquito net at this point. It is a high, filmy white canopy stretched out over my bed and it represents sanctuary and rest. Not just because it's where I sleep, but because it protects me from all the scary, itchy, scratchy things that lurk in the night - mosquitoes, of course, but also cockroaches, mice, beetles, and various moths and small insects that swarm around flashlights and kerosene lanterns. It is such a pleasure to climb under the net for a nap or for the night and escape from all the creepy crawlies in the rest of the house. (The first time something finds its way INSIDE my shelter, I will be devastated, but so far so good.) Yes, it can be tiresome to fasten and unfasten and refasten on those nights when I have to get up three times to tell the dogs to be quiet or to investigate a mouse-like noise in the kitchen or to shut the windows because the rain is blowing in but the irritation is a small consideration next to the peace of mind it brings.

The dogs - I have gone from a pet-less household in the states to leading a pack of Vanuatu dogs. Mai is the one I lay claim to and take responsibility for, but my yard has been home to 2 of her siblings, her mother, and another big red dog that has lived there for quite a while. I was also caring for another volunteer's dog for a few weeks so that brought the total to 6. Everyday, everywhere I went, 3-6 dogs milling around. I'm sure it provided a lot of amusement for my neighbors. For a while I considered scouring the neighborhood for any other dogs that needed a home and forming a pack I could rent out to run wild pigs, but no need. Things are looking up. First, my temporary boarder, Stew, went back to his owner. Then, I ran mommy dog off. So, for the past few weeks, I've been down to 4 dogs (Mai, 2 puppies, and the big red one) who follow me everywhere. As of yesterday, I'm back to two. One of my co-workers took the littlest puppy and another volunteer took the other puppy yesterday. Relief.

Training Mai - In addition to the usual commands of "sit," "stay," "down," and "NO!" our training regime includes necessary commands like "stay out of the office," "stay out of the store," and "no chasing/killing/eating the neighborhood chickens." During working hours, the businesses here just prop their doors open so there's nothing keeping Mai outside except her interest in avoiding my discipline. Of course, she quickly figured out how to stay just out of reach as I chase her back toward the door so now she spends a lot of time tied up. She's still young though, close to 6 months old would be my guess, so we're going to keep working on that. More serious is the chicken-thing since she's killing my neighbors' dinner. But I refuse to give up . . . . at least not yet. The last time she actually killed the chicken she was chasing was about 2 weeks ago and then she didn't eat it so we're making progress, I think. That particular chicken was laid outside the provincial government office where I was attending a workshop, her attempt to pacify me since I wouldn't let her in the building, and it was witnessed by quite a few of the senior government officials as we left for lunch. So embarrassing. I couldn't even pretend it had been another dog because Mai was sitting right next to it with a feather hanging out of her mouth.

Trips to the store - Gone are the days when ice cream topped the grocery list (it's available sometimes but no freezer to keep it in), when cold cereal was my back up dinner plan (only powdered milk here), or when any kind of salad was a possibility (too few vegetables). These days a typical shopping list is a loaf of bread (and I'm so thankful I can get it), two cans of cheap tuna for the dog, two cans of decent tuna for me (or, if the store has eggs, one can of tuna and 2 eggs), an onion, some chips or crackers, and one maintenance item like peanut butter or sugar or oil or rice. I usually go to the store every two or three days and the list doesn't change. Seasoning options include salt, soy sauce, and curry powder, I can usually pick up an onion and sometimes there are garlic cloves. There is also a market that usually sells the local produce like island cabbage or some other form of greens, manioc, taro and sweet potato, and a wide variety of bananas. Occasionally I can get a cucumber or pineapple. Those are exciting days.

It's a 1-2 minute walk to any of the three stores or the market, but it's a little tricky. One of the stores is hardly open at all. Another is owned by Seventh Day Adventists so the store is not open on Saturdays. And the store with the biggest selection of things is closed after about 5 pm on weekdays, Saturday afternoon, and all day Sunday.

So no Mojo burrito for lunch and Thai food for dinner one day, with barbecue for lunch and spaghetti for dinner the next. It's aelan kakae (island food, including greens, bananas, and lots of kinds of root crops) or something on bread three meals a day. Fortunately, I like aelan kakae but I do dream about food from home, usually salads for some reason. One night I enjoyed three different salads in one dream - I was attending a lunch meeting where you could choose which salad you wanted: a beautiful fruit salad with watermelon and grapes and cantaloupe, a very colorful lettuce salad with lots of toppings, or pasta salad with chicken and a creamy dill dressing, but I chose all three. Couldn't taste them of course but I still enjoyed that dream. I miss salad. And cheese, I miss cheese.

I've never been much of a chef so, when I actually cooked, I ate a fairly unimaginative diet in the U.S. too. Sometimes, though, I think if I WAS some kind of a chef, I'd eat better here. And then I realize you can only combine the same 6 ingredients in so many ways. Even Emeril or Rachael Ray or Julia Childs or that blond guy who picks up women in the grocery store and cooks dinner for their families would find it difficult to be inventive here after the first few weeks.

The sounds - here on Ambae you can always hear the outdoors. There's no air conditioning and the windows and doors are always open so, even over the sound of three or four people typing and talking on the phone at work, I can still hear the crickets and birds and wind and rain. I love it. I can also hear the roosters at 4:30 am and the dogs barking in the middle of the night and the cows lowing (at my host family's house, not in Saratamata) but it's still wonderful. I have grown accustomed to the peace - and subconsciously attuned to the generator, which is housed just across from my house. My brain notices when it come on (POWER!), the slightly different sound it makes before the lights go off, and the quiet that comes when the generator turns off.

The quiet is magnified (is that possible?) because one of my neighbors usually takes advantage of the power to play music on his very nice (=loud) stereo so that we can all enjoy it. One night it was the same song over and over again for two hours. I think he must have hit the "repeat" button and then wandered over to chat at someone else's house. Another night we enjoyed the same song about a dozen times; Kenny Loggins of all people. (Tina, I think of you every time that happens. :))

So there's a sampling of my Peace Corps experience. Hopefully, my next update will include some stories about teaching here in Vanuatu! I begin to co-teach class 7 (the kids are 12-14) at the local school on Monday. Just one unit, or approximately two weeks, but it will be a great chance to learn about the students here and what kinds of activities are interesting to them. Kinds here tend to be quite shy and quiet so it will be a challenge to draw them out. Just another new adventure.

Thanks again to all of you who have written letters/emails or sent packages. (Mom and Dad are printing out messages sent to my gmail account - - and sending them to me by regular mail since the Peace Corps address - is proving less than reliable.) I REALLY ENJOY hearing your news from home.

Jeannette reminds me to update my wish list. I'll do it on the side panel in March, but for the moment . . . I am still enjoying all of the things currently on the list. You may feel unimaginative if you send drink mixes or Oreos or Chex Mix or cross word puzzles (which can be printed off the internet) or whatever, but I am actually using them up so don't feel that you need to think of something new.

--letters all by themselves are wonderful

--any of the things on the list already are wonderful

--small games that are easy to explain (Go Fish was a big hit, but I couldn't figure out how to explain Gin Rummy if that gives you an idea), maybe travel sized type things

--a Frisbee

--toys for Mai (she's tired of the empty peanut butter jar and the dish rag I tied in a knot)

--boxes of macaroni and cheese

--recipes for sweet potato casserole, bread, pancakes, chips, etc., etc.

--basic recipes using potatoes (I will substitute manior)

-- recipes using cooked spinach (I will substitute island cabbage)

(pasta is only available as Ramen noodles or from Vila so if you have a recipe that uses

spinach some other way, that would be great

--a bread pudding recipe would be stupendous!

(My access to ingredients is pretty limited so if it's more sophisticated or exotic than cinamon or yeast, I'll probably have to wait until I go to Vila to find it)

--and I'm still hoping for some constellation information for the southern hemisphere