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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

~Island Time~

These past two months at site have been two of the slowest months of my entire life. I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way, it’s just been taking me a while to adjust to this relaxed style of life. Even so, I can't believe it’s already September!

There is a phenomenon in Vanuatu called “island time”. It pretty much means what you may expect, in that there is no real sense of urgency in any aspect of life here. People intuitively follow the time of the sun, and mostly eat only when they feel ready. Many hours of the day are spent relaxing, guilt-free, simply enjoying the company and environment around you. There is no day-to-day consistency. Even traditionally time-bound institutions, such as church or school, have adopted a lackadaisical attitude towards time. Naturally, as an American, especially as American who always had his iPhone calendar synced perfectly to his computer, this absolutely frustrates me. Although I’ve been in the country since April, I’m still nowhere near adjusted. Just when I think I’ve figured it out, I’m thrown another curve-ball from “island time”.

I have a 6:30am alarm on my phone. My body clock is fully adjusted to this schedule and also an alarm is completely unnecessary here. However, I can’t bring myself to turn it off. In the early weeks at site, my host papa would fetch me in the mornings for breakfast. I felt fully comfortable traveling solo through the jungle path and across the river towards his house; nevertheless, he insisted on chaperoning me. At first this was annoying, then it became very annoying. Some mornings, he would arrive and I’d be dressed, ready to go, having been waiting for him for almost thirty minutes. Other mornings, he’d show up and I would be barely out of my room, stressed and not even close to ready. Then, one morning, I woke up to him knocking on my door, whispering my name to wake up (side-note: this is a very unsettling way to start the day). I opened the door, and there he was, looking worried and asking if I was sick because I “never sleep in this late”. Then, my alarm went off. Completely baffled, I shut off my alarm and got ready. When we arrived to breakfast the entire family was concerned and wondering why I had slept in so much — and that’s “island time”, folks.

Apart from the inconsistencies of time, probably the most difficult adjustment for me has been figuring out ways to fill up my day and effectively integrate within my community. Back in training, we were consistently surrounded by some form of stimulation. Even when it felt monotonous and boring, there were at least other volunteers around to chat, explore, and make up silly games with. In addition, our host communities were more than willing to babysit and allow us to tag along throughout their daily activities. 
Now that I’m alone at site, it has been a jarring change from that early experience. Long stretches of days will go by where I don’t even feel as though I’ve had a single meaningful interaction with my community. Here’s a typical day: 
    • wake up (6:30am)
    • make oatmeal
    • read
    • say hello as someone passes towards their garden, maybe make some awkward observational small talk 
    • (i.e. “Oh hey, are you going to your garden?”, “Yes, going to my garden. Are you sitting down on a chair?”, “Yes, I am sitting down on a chair!”, “Ok, going to my garden. Bye!”, “Good talk! I’ll be on my chair!”), 
    • boil some yams
    • bathe in the river
    • dinner with my host family
    • sleep (7:30pm)


Obviously I’m exaggerating a bit — I usually rotate between yam, banana, and manioc. But, in actuality, my days here have been fairly uneventful and boring. It’s been tricky trying not to feel like a burden while my community is busy working their gardens or harvesting cacao to sell. However, especially this past month, I have found myself becoming much more comfortable within my community. Conversations are still a bit forced and repetitive, but I feel less of an urge to wrap up the conversations and hide back in my house or sneak away to read in my hammock. I’ll just need to give it some more time.



Prawn Spearin'

Feast!


Here's the Spearin' Crew!

As for my work, I’ve actually started! 

Cris leading our exercise class


The first step for a health volunteer is to assess and understand the needs of their community. This is done through a baseline health survey, which I have started this week. Every day, my counterpart, Spethly, and I visit a single household and ask them general hygiene, nutrition, and health history questions. I spent the past two Sundays making brief church announcements, so I feel fairly comfortable that the community understands and supports the accurate completion of this survey. Whenever a community member is confused or my Bislama is unclear, Spethly swoops in and saves me from the awkward silence of my condom question. By mid-October, Spethly and I will analyze the results and give a brief presentation to the other volunteers, and their counterparts, back in Port Vila for our “reconnect training”. With these results, we will be able to determine the priority level and community need of any future projects. Cool stuff, I’m pretty pumped about it. I’ve also been trying to arrange a meeting to revive the community’s aid post committee, but “island time” has been getting in the way. I hope to get this done by next week. 


This is called a "Milpod", so far I've killed three of them! This guy was nipping at my elbow in the middle of the night.


My bathing spot, no joke.


Village's river. The drought has dried it almost completely. I use this water to bathe, cook, and wash dishes.
Low-tide picnic!

One more, unrelated thing: the other week, my friend, Colleen, and I walked three hours (each way!) through the middle of the Malekula jungle to visit her village. On the way back, we saw a group of little kids giggling and pointing for us to turn around and look. We turn our heads, and right in front of us is a dead cat, hanging by its neck, underneath a tree. We both immediately screamed and got as far away from those kids as possible. 

Thanks for reading!

Meet Jungle Dog!


Bye!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Vanu-what?

“For two years!? Where are you going?”
“Vanuatu”
“Vanu-what?”
“Vahhn-ooo-ahh-tuu”
“Where is that?”
“It’s in the South Pacific, near New Caledonia and Fiji”
“Oh cool Fiji! So it’s Fiji?”
“Uhh yeah…sure, it’s basically Fiji”

I’ve finally made it to Vanuatu! 

That’s a lie, I arrived at the end of April, but…I’ve finally made a blog post!

I’ve been in Vanuatu for the past three months, and can honestly say that I won the Peace Corps lottery. This place is incredible. It is an absolute tropical paradise, and every day I find myself captivated by each new discovery it has to offer. The people, the culture, fresh fruit and stunning landscapes have all made this early adventure so thrilling for me. Also, I’ve lost like 20 pounds. So yeah, I’m having a pretty good time.





After first arriving on the island of Efate, in the capital city, Port Vila, all 41 of us trainees spent about a week in a hotel going over various training sessions. Right before we had arrived, the island had experienced minor damage from a recent cyclone, forcing us to be put up in the Holiday Inn Resort, instead of the usual training area. I, in fact, was totally cool with this. 

After that initial week, the two sectors, Health and Education, were split up and sent off to start the language and sector-specific technical trainings in our host villages. As a health trainee, my first village was on the small island of Pele, right off the coast of Efate. The education trainees stayed on mainland Efate in a separate village called Epau. After only two weeks of settling into our host families and awkwardly navigating the local language and culture, a second cyclone began to approach Vanuatu. As part of Peace Corps’ safety and security protocol, everyone was pulled from their villages and sent right back to the Holiday Inn Resort. I, again, was totally cool with this new plan. You’ve got to be flexible, right?

The cyclone, Cyclone Donna, eventually climbed all the way up to the maximum Category 5; but, thankfully, caused limited damage to the island nation. After a second week in the resort, we were sent back to the villages to resume training. Training lasted until June 30th, and midway through the two sectors swapped training villages. It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite of the two locations — I’m just so thankful for the meaningful time, laughs, and lessons shared with both of my host families.



Pele Host Family

Cyclone Evacuation

Epau Host Family


On June 30th, all 41 of us took the Peace Corps oath and officially became Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs)! We had a small ceremony in the capital, filled with speeches from the PC staff, host families, now-PCVs, and local government officials. It was a great night and a satisfying end to the hard work we all put in during training.





Mama Milking Some Coconut

Breakfast One Morning. I've Got Some Work To Do...

Meet Maggie!
Not My Toliet, But We Helped Build It.

I’ve been at my permanent site now for a few weeks now, and will still need some time to adjust and feel comfortable here. I’ve been placed on the island of Malekula, in a small village tucked away in the middle of the bush. There is absolutely no cell service, so it feels incredibly remote here. However, I do have a satellite phone for emergencies, and luckily have a site-mate, Cris, only ten minutes away. The people are very curious and excited to have me, as I am towards them. I can only imagine how the next two years will play out, and welcome the adventures to come. 

Ok, about this blog. There are three goals as a PVC: 

  1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women. 
  2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples serves. 
  3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans.

That last point is directed at you — readers of this blog. While the primary purpose of this blog is to keep in touch with my family and friends back home (and hopefully keep you all entertained with my inevitable shenanigans), I do want to make it a point to share with you the wonderful culture of Vanuatu. As the Ni-Van people graciously let me into their homes and lives, I, too, hope to give you all back home a glimpse into their experiences. Also, I don't intend to sugarcoat my two years of service. I fully anticipate some hardship during this time, and want to give you all an accurate depiction of my Peace Corps service.

I’ll have spotty access to the Internet every 1-2 weeks and will try my best to write consistently, but let’s set the bar reeeaaaal low for now. I wanted to keep the bulk training off the blog, but promise to get much more specific in the posts to come. 

Thanks for reading, miss you all!