Without asking which one you'd like to hear first, I'm just going to put the bad news first and get it out of the way. Mai has disappeared. I let her out one evening and she never came back. She had never done anything like that before but I hoped that she had simply wandered off with a couple of semi-wild dogs who visit us occasionally. But after 3 days, the two dogs showed up at my house without Mai. That was a serious blow to my hope that she would come back. My host family immediately suggested that someone stole her. I had a hard time believing that someone in Vanuatu would be interested enough in dogs, any dog, to go to the trouble to steal her but several other people mentioned the possibility as well. They said that because Mai was a nice dog, and clean, and looked different from most other island dogs that someone would be tempted to steal her. Considering the other possibilities that were offered to me, I'm clinging to the hope that someone DID steal her, someone who really likes dogs and will care for her. Other options were that she was poisoned, stoned, or eaten.
It has been three weeks now and I am slowly giving up on her coming back. Her water dish has become a mosquito coil tray and her flea/tick shampoo is put in the closet. I haven't given away the tins of tuna that would have been her dinner but those will go next. It has been very difficult to deal with since people here don't really understand and because I can't really talk about it honestly. I'm afraid that any mention of feeling lonely will mean that my host sister offers to come live with me again. That is not the kind of company I need, though, so I just keep it to myself.
OK. On to the good news. I have been much more active since returning from Christmas in the states. I'm not sure if my absence reminded people that I will, in the not too distant future, be gone for good or if they are procrastinators like me and needed the more imminent deadline to create some motivation . . . and really, it doesn't matter why. The outcome is that there are workshops planned and lesson taught and observations done and kids being tutored and no more time for computer games. My first action was to take on 4 kids in the 3rd grade at the nearby school for some phonics/reading tutoring. We identified them as being low at the end of last year, and I figured tutoring was something that didn't require support or initiative from anyone but me, so I announced to the teacher and my counterpart at the office that I would be tutoring every Wednesday afternoon. Two other people have also asked me to work with their kids two more days of the week so three days a week, I am working with 8 kids on various literacy skills. It has been fun.
The nearby primary school has also decided to fill their non-pay day Friday afternoons with mini workshops. My first one was a phonics review that included some information about what comes after the basic, early elementary skills. The teachers there introduced phonics about three years ago so the kids in 4th grade are ready for the next level of skills. That afternoon led to two weeks of work at the school. The first week, I was doing three phonics lessons a day in class 5, class 6 and class 3/4 FOR A FRANCOPHONE CLASS! That was an adventure. Fortunately, I could do most of the talking in Bislama and use a French/English dictionary to put together word lists for learning letter sounds. I learned a lot of French words that start with /s/. After a week of model lessons, the teachers took over and I observed each of them several times. A few frustrating moments, like showing up unexpectedly to one of the classes and finding out that the teacher hadn't prepared a phonics lesson because he didn't think I was going to be able to come. What my presence or absence had to do with teaching phonics to his students is still a mystery to me but he recouped his losses by doing an activity after I left and telling me about it the following day. Another one of the teachers was teaching her kids the difference between /s/ and /sh/, a distinction that does not exist in Bislama. She used "She sells sea shells on the sea shore," to help the kids hear and practice the two sounds and it was lots of fun. We all laughed and laughed at the students' attempts to say the tongue twister accurately.
I will be doing my second mini-workshop tomorrow afternoon on reading comprehension activities. The weeks in between were filled by Kosuke, a Japanese volunteer who is helping the teachers with mathematics. The workshop tomorrow is going to require some quick work on my part since I am, at the moment, in Luganville, Santo, running errands for a pre-school workshop that will begin Monday in West Ambae. (Told you I was busier!) My flight to Ambae arrives at 10:30 or 11:00 tomorrow morning and then I have to be at the school at 1:00 for the workshop. Hmm.
The week before Easter, Beth and I (Beth is one of the newer volunteers who lives in Lolowai, where the bank and post office are) went north for a workshop being run by Blake, man Ambae. (Blake is currently serving his 5th year as a volunteer on North Ambae. I'm not even sure how to respond to that sometimes.) A nearby village asked him to do a workshop on health and sanitation. They received a grant that paid for some rain water collection and storage systems and two new toilets that will help cut down on the flies that trasmit germs from the pit toilets to the people. In the mornings, we did health toktoks and in the afternoons, the participants worked on the toilets.
The village is definitely more rural that I am used to. Everything was up or down because they're up on the hillsides rather than down near the ocean. They consider themselves a community but you can't see one family compound from another because of the trees and the incline. Phone calls have to be made from the stump of a coconut palm located on the top of the ridge so you have to climb for 20 minutes to make or receive phone calls. I did a lot of thinking about how difficult it must have been to get to know the people in the area but Blake said his host father was very helpful about taking him around and introducing him to the different families. And the school or community events were opportunities for meeting people as well. Still seems like an extra challenge to me. Blake's host family actually lives in a little hollow and they are proud to point out that theirs is the last compound to the north. No one lives farther up the hill, no one lives farther north, no one lives down the hill. I think, during those first few months, the walls of that little valley would have made me feel trapped. I'm not sure if that was a reaction to the isolation or if it's the effects of growing up in a place where the areas of highest elevation are the garbage dumps, but it made me glad that I was living in Saratamata.
The workshop seemed to go well. Beth and I were mainly responsible for a kids activity each afternoon but we helped Blake with the morning sessions as well. Hopefully, the workshop met Blake's expectations though it's hard to tell because the only disappointment he expressed was that they ran out of kava at the closing ceremony. (Not such a bad thing, in my opinion, because a shell and half of the stuff made me drunker than I'd ever been on kava. It was not a pleasant sensation.)
I was back in Saratamata on Good Friday, cleaned the house on Saturday, spent Easter Sunday with my host family, and looked forward to a week in the office preparing for the pre-school workshop next week. However, our office copy machine is not working well and we had a impressive number of papers to photocopy for the pre-school teachers and there were supplies to buy and the result was me hopping a plane on Wednesday morning. One full day in Santo to get everything accomplished and out again on Friday. A weekend in Saratamata and out again on Monday for a week long workshop in West Ambae.
This is truly a whirlwind of activity here but my days have been generally busier.
There is so much more to write about--my host family's Easter dinner and "secret friend" gift giving, the people I met at the workshop and the surprisingly pleasant closing ceremony, some observations on child raising here that are definitely worth a blog post at some point--but I'm running out of steam. It has been a LONG day and I made the most of it in spite of the heat and humidity which made me run with sweat just walking from one errand to the next. A glass of cold lime juice with ice, ICE!, an ice cream, and a cold shower were the highlights of the day and I am looking forward to a good night's sleep with the fan pointed right at me. (Oh, the luxury of 24 hour electricity.) My next trip to civilization should be at the end of May for a Peace Corps meeting. I will post something again then.
I miss you all.