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
- 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.
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.|
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.