Monday, October 25, 2010

Luganville, one last time

I am in Luganville, Santo, for the last time. Ostensibly, the purpose is a kindy conference. You may remember a similar post coming from Luganville about a year ago when I was waiting to find out where I was staying and when I was going to do my presentation. This is the same conference, and it is proving to be just as unorganized. However, it proved to be a great opportunity to take a last trip and get away from Ambae for just a little while.

The first part of my trip to Santo was spent with Karen, Mariann, and her husband Vic in Port Olry (close to Champagne Beach if you want to look it up on the internet). It rained the whole drive up there and the whole afternoon and night but it was great. The beach was still beautiful and I ended up sleeping most of the afternoon and about 10 hours again that night. Apparenlty, getting ready to leave Ambae has been more exhausting than I realized. The sun shone long enough for me to get a sunburn, we ate dinner at a restaurant that cooked island food with a Western twist, read books, walked along the beach, swam at Champagne and just had a restful weekend.

My presentations (two) are supposed to happen today and my time has been cut about in half. I'm not entirely sorry. And I'm hoping that the participants today will understand the purpose of Vision/Mission statements more quickly than my earlier workshop attendees. These guys are the coordinators for the 6 provinces in Vanuatu so they're more familiar with abstract concepts than the kindy teachers who are mostly untrained. For the local teachers, writing Vision and Mission statements proved to be a considerable challenge.

Once the workshop is finished, all that remains is to visit with my family who are here. My sister-in-law and niece, Clarissa, are both here. Monique is waiting to start work at a new Tusker beer factory opening in Luganville. She and my brother need money to finish their house and to pay the bride price, which has gone up now because they have a child. She has been here a couple of weeks but the factory still isn't open. My brother Demie came last week to start a job at a resort. He just finished the first of a two year course in hospitality and tourism at the local technical school. The teachers had set up practical job experience for them once the course was finished but Demie figured why wait. He asked about working and gaining some experience during the summer spel (now) so he was placed at a restaurant/bar/hotel here in Luganville. I haven't seen him yet to get the update but I was proud of him for pursuing the opportunity. And my oldest sister, Jenny, lives here with her husband and two children. We only just met a few months ago when she came to Ambae for a visit, but I'm looking forward to seeing her again.

The week before my Santo trip, I had several visitors who added considerably to the stress of that week. The new trainees arrived in September and have been in training on Efate until last week. There was a mass exodus of trainees from their training villages to the outer islands to get a look at what someplace else in Vanuatu is like. There were rumors that Peace Corps sent trainees to the sites that PC had in mind as their permanent placement, but it's just rumor at this point. Neill seemed to like Saratamata and East Ambae but it was quite tiring to be the tour guide for 4 days. When other volunteers visit, there's no pressure to be "up." They usually just want to hide in the house, buy things at the store that they can't get in their village, and watch movies. Trainees need to be shown the ropes, introduced to everyone you pass, acquainted with the work you are doing, had hoped to do, or would have done if you'd had more time. And they have questions, lots and lots of questions. Thankfully, Sheridan and Justin arrived right in the middle of Neill's visit on their way out of Vanuatu for good and they helped with answering Neill's questions. I think it was probably a great chance for Neill too since Sheridan and Justin live in a very different place than me and have had a much different experience. So Neill got the benefit of a town-girl and country-couple stories.

I also got to see Sandy from Maewo for a few minutes before she, Sheridan and Justin got on the plane to Vila. However, Sandy's Maewo host family was not content to say good-bye to her on the sandbeach by their village like Sheridan and Justin's families. Seven of Sandy's family members came to Ambae to put her on the plane. It was heart wrenching to see them say good-bye to her. Sheridan said it feels like you are dying; that the village and your family mourn you as if you're dead. I saw evidence of that with Sandy's family and it gave me an indication of what my own good-byes are going to feel like.

My last two weeks on Ambae will be spent at my host family's house. I was/am not looking forward to the long drop toilet again and swimming (i.e. bathing) in the saltwater, but it felt important to be back for a while. I will have come full circle, in a sense. And because it is difficult to visit with my family during the work week but stay in my house in Saratamata, staying with them in Vatumamea will give us lots of time for visiting in the evenings. I still plan to go to the office each day and have lunch at my house. This way I can finish packing and tidy up at the office and not have TOO much downtime in Vatumamea--those first months of idleness and crossword puzzles are still too raw a memory for me to want to that again. But we'll have the evenings and weekends for going to the garden and storian. I think it will also help me feel that this is really ending.

I've been working on a couple of lists. As I keep going back and forth from ready to go to wishing I could stay a little longer, excited to go home and sorry to leave, irritated by some part of life here but worried about readjusting to being home, I decided to write some of it down. So I ended up with a couple of lists that help to summarize some of the back and forths of this transition time. The headings are self-explanatory.

Things I won’t have to do anymore:
--wash all of my laundry by hand
--burn my trash
--tie a lavalava over my knee-length shorts so I’m “clothed” enough to go to the store
--use a toothbrush to scrub the dirt off of my feet
--check each morning to see if the water is running
--try to sleep through the chickens crowing and clucking at 3:30 in the morning
--use basins and colanders and tins to hide every possible item that might be of interest to rats
--go without eggs or meat or telephone credit because the ship hasn’t come in a while
--go without vegetables because the mamas didn’t come to the market house this week
--sweep the ceilings for cobwebs every time I sweep the floor for dirt
--lay awake most of the night because it’s too hot to sleep
--listen with a smile as ladies tell me I’ve gotten “fatfat” (not an insult here in Vanuatu, just statement
of fact)

Things I won’t be able to do anymore:
--go to work without looking in the mirror
--be “well dressed” if what I’m wearing is clean
--live 2 minutes’ walk from the ocean or hear it as part of the background all night
--eat mangos and pineapples straight from the tree or plant
--smile and say “good morning” to everyone I see
--choose to take an afternoon off from work and spend it reading a book or taking a nap
--get enough sleep so I can go through my days without yawning and without getting sick
--spend $20 and eat for a whole week
--be accepted and welcomed by people simply because I took the time to chat, because I tried
something new, because I participated in an activity
--feel like a good hostess just because I have an extra mattress and towel for a guest
--change my plane ticket the day before my flight without paying any fees or penalties
--get my take-away food in an environmentally friendly, totally biodegradable leaf

Things I’ve learned how to do or learned how to do better:
--do without
--enjoy the little things—rainbows over Maewo, an unexpected chat with a friend, macaroni and
cheese, cucumbers at the market, a rare breeze
--be idle . . . truly idle
--walk on muddy roads without flipping too much dirt up onto my skirt
--walk on bush roads without tripping over every root or stone
--approach babies and small children who are not used to white faces without making them cry
--stand up, kneel down, and sit at the correct times in an Anglican church service
--make laplap and roll island cabbage leaves to make simboro

If time allows, there will be one more post from Vanuatu within the next few weeks. And then it's off to SE Asia. Miss you all and SEE YOU SOON!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Home Stretch

My time on Ambae is drawing to a close and my emotions are . . . all-about. Within five minutes, my attitude can change from “If there was a plane leaving now and I could get on it, I would. In a second.” to “How can I be leaving already? How am I going to say good-bye?” It’s exhausting. I could maybe describe the experience as bi-polar . . . . . dichotic? . . . . intense in its opposing natures?

The experience has been long at times and short at others. It has been incredibly frustrating and extremely rewarding, sometimes at the exact same moment. Two years of boredom have also been two years of new experiences. It’s hard to reconcile all of that in one sitting. As soon as I commit one comment to writing, an opposing or qualifying statement has to be added. There are things I will miss and things I will be glad to escape. I am looking forward to being back at home, close to family and friends again, but I know there will lows in the months before a new job or grad school begins. My thoughts go around and around. I’m sad to be leaving, and I’m grateful that I do feel sad because there was a long while when it was just hard to be here. It’s going to be hard to say good-bye but I am so looking forward to saying hello again to people at home. This has just been a very complete, multi-faceted experience. And the more I think about it, the more I think that, as personal therapy perhaps, I’ll be continuing the blog for a while. There are so many things, little things, that have happened that were pushed aside by bigger events for the blog that I’d like to do some reflecting and remember even after I’m back. The nice thing about a blog is that, once it’s out there, it’s in your hands whether you want to continue with me. No pressure.

Here’s a little glimpse of life that normally wouldn’t make it into my blog. There is a cement water tank attached to the corner of my house. It is quite large, especially for one person, so lots of people in my community make use of the water. We use it for cooking and drinking, some of the men use it for cleaning and preparing kava, if the running water is turned off we use the tank water for washing too. But these last few months have been the dry season, and the water level in my tank has been dropping lower and lower. The water trickles instead of pours into the waiting kettle, bucket, or jug. I hear people come to the tank at night—to avoid detection or because they just thought about it, I don’t know—but they are filling buckets, big ones. And I fret. However, my tank continues to provide. At night, a small rain will fall and it is just enough to provide water for that day. It makes me think of the Bible story--Elijah, or was it Elisha, and the widow with her never ending oil and flour. I remind myself that there are other water tanks in Saratamata, but word goes out that they are emptying too and that is why more people are coming to my tank. But the last two days have been rainy, very rainy, and in 48 hours my tank is full to overflowing and the worry recedes. Cabbage leaves stand up again and the lone pineapple in my garden has had a growth spurt. Just like that. It's beautiful.

Here are my plans for leaving Ambae and Vanuatu, just so you know.
Last day on Ambae—November 12
Last day in Vanuatu—November 20
Traveling in Thailand, Cambodia, Taiwan until December 12
Arriving home--December 13

There is a lot to do before leaving so I haven’t had much time to enjoy all the possibilities of going to SE Asia, but I’m working on the to-do list. There are reports to write, grad school essays to complete, last kakaes (good-bye dinners) to schedule, and a house to pack. Most of my belongings will be given away or sold so I’ve been making piles all over my house—things to give to people, things to sell, things to mail home fast road (expensive but safer), things to mail home slow road (3-4 months but cheaper), things to carry with me on my travels, things to burn. Not much can be done with them until closer to the end but I feel like I’m making progress. It pleases me to see how little I will be bringing home. I've returned to the days when I could fit all of my belongings into my car. . . . until I get home and take a look into the storage container.

That’s the update from Saratamata, East Ambae, Vanuatu. Five weeks to go, counting down.