Thursday, January 21, 2010

Back in the . . . Van - u - a - tu

It doesn't exactly have the same ring as "Back in the USSR" but it's the best I could do. Readjusting has been . . . ok. There are things that made me smile as soon as I stepped off the plane (the big, genuine smiles of the Air Vanuatu employees and the simple baggage/customs process) and moments when I thought, "Oh yeah. The burning trash smell" or I experienced some similar kind of unpleasant reminder of what life in Vanuatu can be like. There were several volunteers from my group in town as well; they were also returning from visits to the states. And I had 2 training sessions to polish and present almost as soon as I got back from home. Those were nice distractions while my mind got back into thinking Vanuatu-fashion. Overall, it has been a smoother transition than I expected, thankfully.

I have just returned from a visit to my host family in Mangaliliu. This is my family from those first few months of training. My host father owns a taxi and shuttles a couple of regulars from the village to Vila and back again each day so he was able to pick me up without making an extra trip. We had fried fish and laplap for dinner--my first aelan kakae since returning--and had a really nice evening catching up. My first born sister, Juliette, did very well on her year 8 exams, placed first in her class, and was assigned to a prestigious secondary school in Vila. The second born sister is proving to be a natural entrepreneur. She has been making shell jewelry to sell in town and I was able to support her efforts by purchasing a really nice pair of earrings. Micah, my brother, is 6 and will be starting primary school this year. He talked and talked and talked while I was visiting. These days, though, I can actually catch most of what he's saying in direct contrast to my early days there when I just nodded and said the Bislama equivalent of "Oh, really?" over and over again.

Today is my last day in Vila and I just have a few things to take care of before heading to Ambae tomorrow. I am looking forward to unpacking my suitcases, to seeing my Ambae host family, to seeing Mai, and to reclaiming my garden from the weeds and overgrown island cabbage. It is hot and humid here--in the 90s each day with at least 80% humidity--and it doesn't cool down much at night. But that actually helps me enjoy those cold water showers rather than just endure them like I do all winter. There are also two new sets of volunteers, married couples, who live near me on Ambae. One is a couple from Kentucky who live about 40 minutes away by truck. I will probably see them every couple of weeks. And a couple from New Zealand arrived just before I left and will be living at the rural training center between my community and the bank/post office. I think this year will be a very different experience with so many volunteers nearby.

I'm not sure when I'll be able to post again. I don't think I'll be in Vila again until May so I'll try to put something together for Mom and Dad to post in the meantime.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Haka, Heifers, Hostels

Just wanted to go on record as saying that the North Island of New Zealand is a great place to visit. I've been here 3 days now and am thoroughly enjoying myself. There was a great show at the War Memorial Museum in Auckland of Maori songs and dances, including haka. All of the summer flowers are in bloom here so even driving through the small towns is a treat because the yards are decked out. The urban gardens are all flowering too. People have been very helpful with directions and suggestions and making transportation and accomodation arrangements. And the cities are very welcoming cities--not too much traffic (pedestrian or motorized), not too big, not too dirty, just friendly.

Today I took a bus from Auckland to Rotorua and really enjoyed the trip. It was nice to see some of the rural areas of the North Island. We passed through "Hobbiton" too, also known as Matamata, though the town's welcome sign was for Hobbiton. From the bus window, I could definitely see the potential for the little hobbit burrows in the hilly landscape. Not too many sheep yet, but lots and lots of cows.

And Rotorua is a great little tourist town. There appear to be some real offices and apartment buildings and houses here as well, but the downtown area just feels made for visitors. Lots of trees and flowers and pedestrian walkways.

It's nice to be here in summer, too. The sun has been bright and warm and the breeze cool (a little too cool sometimes :) ) and just one light rain shower so far. I highly recommend the North Island--at least what I've seen so far. It's worth the 12-14 hour plane ride. :)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The pictures below are from my trip to Tanna and some recent ones of my host family. I'd post some better captions but my editing screen is showing the code rather than the picture so I can't figure out where to type.
The pictures of the volcano show Mt. Yasur on Tanna. It is a very active volcano, at least it was when I was there, with rumbling and small explosions every few minutes. We were able to go just before dark so we could see our way up but also get to enjoy the fireworks of the lava explosions after the sun set. It was amazing to be that close to so much power--no guide rails, no warning signs, just some height and being on the safe side of the crater.
The custom dancers were from a nearby village and you can see the volcano's silhouette behind them on the left.
One of the first family pictures of my mbumbu Christina (grandma). She is about 4 feet tall, had to change her blouse when I asked to take her picture, and is the crafter of the mat she is holding up. She lives very close to my host family.
There is also a family picture with almost all of my host family. Two brothers are missing. My host mother is holding up the newest addition to the family, my niece Rachel and my sister Sophia is holding my cousin, Beres. There is also a picture of my scratching manioc for laplap with my host father sitting in the background. Right after my sister took the picture, my host mother came in with a cloth to drape over my lap. I have a habit of scratching the manioc or banana or yam onto myself rather than into the dish.
The last two pictures are of Christmas celebrations, the first with my host family on Ambae and the second of my US family in island dresses. My sisters don't know I'm posting this picture but they will find out soon enough. If the post disappears in the next couple of days it's because my mom knows my password and didn't want the world to see her "island style."

I head back tomorrow morning. The New Zealand plans are coming together bit by bit and I'm excited about my short stop in Auckland. I will miss all of you but look forward to reunions next winter.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Another Year is Dawning

For the first time in my life, I am actually living on a schedule where the "New Year" makes sense to me. As a student and teacher, New Years never really had the impact for me that so many people seemed to feel--it came right in the middle of a school year, not at the beginning or end of anything except for the free calendar from the insurance company. This year however, it feels like something much more profound. The halfway mark of my Peace Corps service is proving to be a very complicated place. There is some celebration for having conquered that first year, for the small victories, for the personal growth. There is some frustration at how, no matter how slowly the individual days seemed to pass, the time has rushed by. My successes don't measure up very well by my ingrained, western hemisphere standards of accomplishment. But every volunteer I've talked to has said the second year is busier. That may be a reflection of finally adjusting fully to the slower pace but my list of possible activities when I return is encouraging enough. At times I am confused about how I can be so bored in the midst of such an adventure, and how I can be so idle in a place where there is so much to be done. And at other times I'm so thankful that I can take a day off to go to a custom wedding, that I can sit and talk with Krenny, our office secretary, all afternoon instead of being tied to a project or a deadline, that I can spend 3 days on a letter instead of 3 minutes on an email to a friend.

I'm returning to Vanuatu for one more year and I am looking forward to the downward coast after a year spent running, crawling, limping up the incline. It means one more year without electricity 24-7, one more year of cold showers, one more year of banana laplap, one more year of cockroaches and mice and ticks and geckos, one more year of not-enough-to-do. But it also means just one more year with my host family, just one more year of living 50 yards from the ocean, just one more year of having my own garden, just one more year of time for hobbies, just one more year of simple living. Though I'm on the downhill run, it promises to be an emotional trip.

It has been wonderful to be home. The culture shock wasn't too bad; I think all of those hours on airplanes and in airports helped reintroduce me to our more luxurious way of life. The first trip to the grocery store had an "Oh, yeah. This is what a store is like" quality. It was wonderful to hear the Christmas carols and see the lights and smell the pine trees. We may go overboard with Christmas here in the states, but I like it. And everytime I opened the fridge (which was more often than it should have been) there were lots of choices--CHOICES! I've been able to spend time with my family including my new nephew, who is a real cutie. I got some work done and even managed to earn a little money! I've even had the chance to experience the cold of winter, though it's a Floridian's definition of cold. The fleece and warm up pants I packed for New Zealand have come in handy; temperatures here have plunged into the 50s. As much as I dislike the cold, I am trying to store up a little bit of the chill because nighttime temperatures in Vanuatu these days are hovering around 90.

I plan to get online one more time before I leave to post some pictures. I hope everyone's holidays were a time of rest and reunions and God's blessings and that the new year brings even more of the same.