Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Recent Events Complete with Visuals

Our last training as Peace Corps volunteers occurred last week and was surprisingly good. I think we were all wondering what kind of training could possibly be helpful at this point in our service but our program director did a great job finding speakers and topics that were interesting if not immediately useful. We heard from several departments within the Ministry of Education that are working on some serious reform here in Vanuatu, UNICEF did a presentation about an initiative that they started in one province a few years ago and are now introducing in 2 new provinces, mine included. There were also several sessions that gave us a chance to share some of our experiences, good and bad :), and to brainstorm some solutions for other people's challenges.

Since then, I've been running errands and scheduling meetings and eating ice cream and generally keeping busy in Vila. I will be here until Sunday and then head back to site. This visit/meeting has been the first time in over a year that I have seen some of the other members of my group and it has been really great to sit around at the hotel with them and hear how they are doing.

Knowing I would have some internet time while here, I brought some pictures with me to bring everyone up to date on what I've been up to on Ambae for the past 4+ months. It was a long time to be at site and I was ready to be in Vila for a while but there have been some fun and interesting events along the way.

These pictures are taken at Hideaway Island, a small island off the coast of Efate. I spent a weekend here with the ladies in the next picture as an early birthday celebration. It was gorgeous and the first time in a long time that I had my bathing suit on. It was a little frightening to reveal parts of me that haven't seen the sun in a year and half-- "Turn a whiter shade of pale" kept running through my mind--but so relaxing to stretch out in the chairs on that beautiful white coral beach. Two of the ladies in the picture are volunteers from my group and the other two are volunteers from New Zealand.

A couple of National Geographic photographer attempts here. The tide went out every day close to noon and left all kinds of interesting and colorful creatures temporarily stranded on the coral.

We spent most of our day here, reading and snacking and napping. Beautiful.

One week in March, I helped to run a workshop for 12 kindergarten teachers from our province. These ladies and gentleman run their own pre-schools but
also supervise several others so we were teaching things that
they are responsible for passing along to the teachers in their
The picture to the right is the runway on West Ambae.
The planes come in from the ocean, soar right over some very large rocks along the coast, and then have to stop before crashing into the bush at the other end of the runway.
It's a very exciting landing for the passengers, no matter how calm the weather and/or pilots.

This is the pre-school building where we did our workshop.
All of the participants sat on mats on the floor, for 5 days and evenings of sessions. The pre-school itself has about 30 students when they all come.

The set of pictures below are from a trip I took
to North Ambae to help with a water/sanitation workshop being led by Blake, a volunteer who is based quite far north. Blake, Beth (a health volunteer from the new group) and I did a week long workshop on good sanitation practices and how to keep water supplies safe. In the afternoons, the community members worked on building two new small houses that are better in terms of sanitation.

This picture came after a trip to a nearby primary school. The teachers there found out I was coming and asked me to come do a phonics refresher so I followed these kids down to their school. It was a 45 minute (with me along) trip, it had rained the night before, and it was down down down the whole time. I was in a bent-knee skier crouch for 45 minutes straight and my legs were jello by the time we got down. I could always tell when a particularly slippery spot was coming up because the kids who were out in front, skipping easily along, would stop and wait for me. My slipping and falling was always a crowd pleaser. By the time we had walked back up again, I was covered in mud and the kids looked like they'd just stepped out of the shower.

This is one of the classrooms. A lot of the kids didn't come down this particular day because of the rain the night before and the bad weather that was expected. They all have a climb either coming or going and the day I visited, they were all dismissed early because of the potential bad weather (which never materialized).

My faithful guides on the trail back to the village. They were very patient with me, even pulling me up some particular slippery spots and always watching for the easiest path. Normally, they are running and singing and playing the whole climb back.

At the health workshop, my primary job was to do an afternoon session with the kids. Beth had some really great ideas for health activities to do with the kids and it was a lot of fun. In the picture below, the kids are drawing their favorite foods on some paper plates. Afterward, Beth came by with a little paper fly she'd made; it had cotton ball feet she had dipped in "sitsit" that looked an awful lot like red food coloring. The fly then landed on all their favorite foods, depositing its load of germs.

This is the site for one of the new small houses. They were VIP toilets, which means Ventilation Improved Pit toilets. The idea is to keep them dark so the flies enter a pipe to escape. There is a net on the top of the pipe that traps the flies and prevents them from carrying germs out of the small house and onto people.

I included the picture mostly because of the green.

One of the finished small houses, complete with hand washing dishes and reminders about how and when to wash your hands.

And these are some of the kids from the village. They loved looking at the picture afterwards and identifying all of the faces.

This is Beth, the volunteer who lives in Lolowai with her husband, Ed. The two of them moved to Ambae in November last year, and to Lolowai in January or so. It was been so nice to have volunteers so close; their house is about a 30 minute walk from me. I've really enjoyed getting to know them--they're a fun couple.

One weekend, Blake and I walked to Ambanga, a village a little north of me, to do a site visit in preparation for a possible volunteer site. It took us about 3 hours to walk there (with a short truck ride in the middle) and about 4 and a half to get back because we missed a turning somewhere. My host family thought that was pretty funny since the road we missed was a truck road, rather than a bush trail.

We stayed one night and walked back the following morning. My host was Emina who runs a guest house for people who want to climb Manaro. She walked with us the first hour to show us a shorter road down from Ambanga. Just after we left Ambanga, it started to rain and the girls were using custom umbrellas (taro leaves) to shelter from the rain.

Just setting out on the road back to Saratamata.

My host family and I have been experimenting
a little lately. This picture is of my host brother,
Wilson, and a cousin brother, Stephie, preparing
a banana cake in an outdoor kitchen.

And below is my brother Lonnie with his friend Monique.
Monique had tried pizza before and wanted to see if we could
make it on Ambae. It was delicious in spite of yeast that didn't rise and no cheese.

Several volunteers came to Ambae in April to climb Manaro before going to Maewo to do a workshop. I went along since I haven't climbed Ambae's volcano yet. The village where our road began has been working hard to prepare a good path for tourists to follow and to bring some interest from Vila tours. We were not expecting anything more than a guide or two but they village really gave us a red carpet welcome.

The men and women did custom dances
and they had prepared a sampling of food for us when we returned from the climb. None of us
needed to sample laplap since we're all very familiar with laplap of all flavors. But they are definitely prepared for visitors, as long as you don't take their "Close up nao" comments too seriously.

This is the new cone forming in the acidic lake on top of Manaro. There are three lakes, one cold one that is either spring fed or all rain water. That is the lake we reached during our climb. The lake with the new cone is just beyond the fresh water lake and is too acidic for swimming. We could just see the steam from our position.
The third lake isn't visible from here.

This was the climax of our 4 hour climb--not for unfit people or those just getting over a stomach virus (like I was). Billy in the middle lives on North Ambae, about a 7 hour walk from my site, and Bob on the right lived on Tanna, though his contract has finished now.

Part of the road we followed to get on top.

Two of the lakes with the steam from the cone in the back.

And one more aerial view of the cone. An obliging pilot flew over it when I was headed for that grass airport on West Ambae.
That's all for now. I hope everyone is well. I'll be in Vila for the next few days and should be able to access email if anyone has something to say. :)

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