Aelan Kakae–A sampling of an island garden

A very small sampling, for anyone curious. Most gardens here include a minimum of: several kinds of bananas (usually harvested while still green, flavorless, and nutrition-less), taro, manioc/cassava, several types of yam, sometimes kumala (sweet potato), papaya, and usually plenty of island cabbage. Less common but still around are things like garlic, local curry, spring onion, tomatoes, grapefruit, mango, passionfruit, etc. Much out of the latter list is very seasonal.

I don’t have many pictures, but here’s what I have for a visual:

Taro
Taro
Baby banana, island cabbage, etc...I think there's a papaya tree in there somewhere....
Baby banana, island cabbage, etc…I think there’s a papaya tree in there somewhere….
Island Cabbage
Island Cabbage

Leaking into Tuesday

Journal entry 4 June 2014 (Cont’d from 3 June)

“The hives still haven’t gone away–does this expose my complete lack of faith? Faith as my faith healers would understand it, anyway.

“So this guy may not have been Jesus himself or even a saint conducting miracles, but I appreciated the sentiment, the cultural experience, and the opportunity to share it with people I love.

“Not long after that spectacle was concluded, it was time for Peter and I to go back to the school for study hour with combined classes 3+4. Peter started with some genuine English exercises, but eventually they started asking about their health homework. Since we’ve been talking about teeth and eyes, etc. (we had done preliminary eye screening for that class the day before), eventually we were talking about Peter’s and my glasses and how the lens relates to the microscope they looked through the day before, etc. Before long, my glasses were being passed around, each student trying them on for a fraction of a second before everyone would disintegrate into giggles. Over and over again we laughed and laughed. Then I dared them to try to walk around the room wearing them. Moses (the tallest, oldest, and shyest in the class) was the first to take up the dare–and we all laughed harder than ever when he only made it a few steps before swiping the glasses off his face and rubbing his eyes. This went on almost until the study hour was over.

That was one of the best moments I’ve ever had with those kids.

Then it was time to walk home. It was dark so our little brother Nesi and a friend (Lina) kept running ahead, hiding, and trying to jump out to scare us. By the end of the walk I was chasing them down the road, both of the screaming and laughing their heads off.

“Then we ate dinner with Nesi and Alicia (ages 9 and 11) and they told us stories of visions people had had, and how kids were being led around the village praying to scare away the devils. Much like when my straight brothers and I were kids–they could hardly get their stories out because they kept getting so excited and talking over each other. Peter and I just did our best to keep up and remain enthusiastic listeners.

“Much of it was hard to follow as they told us about a devil that was wandering through the village that night–he wore a hood with horns coming out and huge teeth stuck out of his face. Nesi recalled for us teh path that was taken as the prayers chased him out fo the village–also something about digging up a yam, someone’s hand in the ground swelling up because of this devil, then running away–another story about being in church with ‘the Healer’ from the day before, and how as everyone had their eyes close he described a vision to them–something about Jesus or the Holy Ghost pouring a cup of water on him to clean him–maybe he was the one whose hand swelled?–and when everyone opened their eyes, he was all wet.

“Then seamlessly these two kids went into telling us about a movie they saw where someone was decapitated and someone else washed his blood. Then a girl was tied down to a table, her arms and legs tied down and a ball gag put in her mouth…..

“‘That’s enough of that! I’m too scared to hear more~’ Thank you Peter for not letting that go on. Alicia agreed she ahd run away when they watched this movie.

“Movies are rarely a one or two person event here. When there’s a movie playing, half the village is watching. Kids and all.

“Of all the events of the day, from the faith healing onward, playing and connecting with the kids was by far the most touching part that filled me full of love for everyone there’ and two kids telling us about their devout community–men, women, and children alike–watching a movie such as that described above was by far the most frightening.

“Feeling integrated, all in a day’s work, after 1.5 years of trying.”

Just another Monday

Journal entry, 3 June 2014

“If today wasn’t evidence of being integrated, I don’t know what would be (apart from maybe participating in a serious kastom ceremony–which no one in my village does anymore).

“I have had chronic hives since I was 12 or 13 years old. Sometimes they’re small itchy bumps, maybe one or two here and there, and sometimes they cover me crown to toe, leaving welts all over my skin so I look like someone beat me with a 2×4 until their arms fell off.

“This morning I woke up somewhere in the middle. Enough hives to not want to go sing and dance at a kindy with forty <6 year olds, but not enough to take steroids. So because I didn’t go to the pre-school, Uyo Rachel (and the rest of the planet Port Narvin and its visitors) knew I was some sort of sick.

“The Presbyterian youth group from the other side of the island has been here for nearly a week now, singing each night away in the church and around the village. Accompanying them is the infamous (on Erromango, in the Presbyterian church) Healer. He is known for his gift of faith healing. Uyo summoned him as soon as she was able, thus doing everything she knows how to do to help me.

“Eventually he arrived in our kitchen with Uyo, Peter’s counterpart Don, and another young woman I don’t know. The healer sat on one of our wooden chairs while the rest of us settled on a mat on the floor.

“Our healer began by quoting a few verses from the bible about faith and resting in the care of Jesus. Then he asked me about my ailment–how long/often I have it, if it causes pain, what other irritations it causes, etc. This part was fairly conversational between he and I.

“Then he returned to Bible references, speaking fast enough that I could just keep up. He talked about the church being important, but more important is our personal relationship with Jesus and the Father (I think Uyo must have tipped him off for this part since this is nearly word for word what I had said about why I don’t attend church–all except specifically referencing ‘Jesus’ and ‘the Father’).

“Next he announced that together we would all say individual prayers of forgiveness. I hadn’t thought it was Presbyterian, but I remembered one of the churches here doing the we-all-pray-out-loud-simultaneously thing, making it sound and feel like a seance. He said this prayer was to call down the ‘tabu spirit’ or holy ghost to come join us.

“As we all began to pray, I had no idea what to say. I felt so disingenuous and stupid–but to call it off would have not only been more awkward, but very rude and relationship-destroying.

“As far as I could tell, they were all praying in Bislama, whispered ‘Jesus’es here and there. I began to mumble awkwardly in English, not knowing what to say. I mostly commented aloud about how lucky I was to have such a unique experience and that I’d likely never experience something like it again. I tried to throw in a few phrases in there of asking–someone–for forgiveness for–stuff. It was a ‘forgiveness’ prayer after all.

“The prayer finally came to an end and the healer continued with the Bible references. Lay your ills at Jesus’ feet and with faith he will take care of us, etc. etc. And our ailments are mountains for us to climb, challenges for us to face–and hives have been my trouble since I was a teenager, so now He sent this guy to relieve me (I’m glad I didn’t tell him about the GI troubles and resulting discomforts I was also dealing with). He told me that the Holy Ghost and Jesus had the power to clean my blood (they’re all about dirty in the blood causing ailments) and cleanse my skin of my ailment. Then it was time to pray again.

“The young woman placed a beat-up Bible in my hands and they all gathered around me, each with a hand on me–one hand on my knee, one on my shoulder, and one on my arm–and the praying began again. At first I had pray-ers’ block…but finally I began muttering with them. This time the words came easier. I talked about gratitude for these people who were doing so much for me in these two years of my life-changing experience; that I wish for them the same positive opportunities to expand their perpective and understanding; that as awkward as I felt, I was glad to be experiencing something so exceptional and that I have so much gratitude for the effort they are making for my benefit…then finally the prayer came to an end.

“For the first time (outside of prayer) someone other than the healer spoke up, but in the local language (which had to be translated for me). She said she had a vision of a beam of light shining down on me. I smiled and otherwise left that alone–she has a right to her own experiences without questioning or even comment from me. But the healer was not to be outdone (that’s how it felt to me anyway) and he told of his vision of the holy ghost, like he was washing dishes, wiping my skin clean. This time it did take an effort not to raise an eyebrow at him. Uyo even let out a small giggle.

“He then went on to tell us that God has a supply of blood in heaven, and if you come to him with your troubles and have faith in him, he will relieve you of your diseased blood and replace it with this blood supply. There’s a similar supply of skin for the same purpose. There’s a supply of every body part that could ever ail. Through all of this I didn’t know what else to do but look up at him as he talked and smile.

“Finally we came to the final prayer. The words came relatively easily this time, saying much of the same things, hoping the people surrounding me couldn’t’ feel how disingenuous and stupid I felt–guilty even.

“Afterward we all smiled. The Healer said if I get a hive again, I can put my hand on it and focus my faith on asking Jesus for relief and he will wash me clean. We all shook hands, saying ‘God bless’ and they left.

“Afterward, I felt anxious, awkward, and even a little shaky. It made my hives start to itch.”

To be continued….

We need a bigger shovel!

A quick story from my journal:

16 May~

“The last night I have to myself before Peter comes back–well I think so far I’ve handled it quite well.

“A month or so ago I experienced the passing of my first cyclone. It was intense, but we never got within about 100 kilometers of the eye, so we managed. I was too caught up in preparing for potentially being hit by Cyclone Lusi and taking care of Peter who had a high fever (dengue?) at the time to keep a journaled record of the experience [but you can read the account I wrote later here].  But seeing as how I’m sitting here along with nothing to do tonight, I may as well record tonight’s experiences.

“It’s been raining for a solid week now. Ok fine, it has taken short breaks, at times was nothing more than a mist, and even took a full day’s break to allow us to do laundry–but it has been wetter than wet. Especially considering we’re supposed to be firmly in dry season now.

“It’s Friday, so it’s my last evening to cook dinner for myself before Peter comes back from Vila. [We cook for ourselves Friday night-Sunday. The rest of the time we eat with our host family.] Friday is also the day for ‘go long bot’–for drinking, whether it’s alcohol or kava. [I usually bring a light alcoholic beverage to enjoy while everyone else drinks kava, which my body has officially and firmly rejected.]

“I announced this fact earlier to the few people still in the village–most are on holiday somewhere else on the island for the school spel. So it’s mostly just been Mama Sonia, Daddy Bob, Uyo, Fabian (pregnant) and Auntie Yam (with newborn)–and only them I had to invite to join me. It was only raining lightly at the time, but still I wondered about the likelihood of them joining me in my kitchen without kava to entice them. And as the sun disappeared behind the mountain and the time approached to start a fire to begin cooking, the rain started coming down in buckets.

“I already knew that this meant no one would be venturing out to join me, but I also learned (in this order):

  1. That our kitchen AND swim house can flood.
  2. That Peter’s “rain coat” is a wind breaker at best, and not at all water proof.
  3. That we need to replace our solar lights–they don’t work anymore.
  4. That we need a bigger shovel.

“Number 3 actually probably came first, since it was already dark when our kitchen flooded.

“If all that alone does not tell you tonight’s story, I’ll also tell you the aftermath:

“There are now random holes in the ground between our sleeping house and the kitchen, but there’s a decent barrier that is keeping more water from getting into the kitchen, at least for now. The swim house too is no longer flooded.

“I enjoyed my drink and my meal of already-cold cheesy quinoa while every inch of me dripped onto the kitchen floor. Then I took a hurried, luke-warm (from previously boiled water) bucket bath, taking more time than I wanted to scrub the mud off my legs, feet, and flip-flops. Then I got into dry clothes, and crawled into bed.

“Here I am now. The rain is still pouring. I left the kitchen open so that Nalla would have somewhere (relatively) dry to sleep. I hope the dirt barriers and trenches that I made in the dark keep the water out of the kitchen for the night. We shall see.

“All this on the one night that I fill myself with alcoholic fluids. And, I’ll remind anyone who reads this, we do NOT have indoor plumbing.”

Our house--all still buried in the coconut leaves put there to protect it from Cyclone Lusi. On the left you can see the doorway to our sleeping house. On the right you can see how far I had to walk to get to the toilet. In between is the kitchen.
Our house–all still buried in the coconut leaves put there to protect it from Cyclone Lusi. On the left you can see the doorway to our sleeping house. On the right you can see how far I had to walk to get to the toilet. In between is the kitchen.

 

Introducing Grassroot Soccer!

These always end up inthe opposite order of what I want, then I don’t know how to switch them around. Someday I’ll learn. I do intend to become computer literate when I return to the USA.

Anyhoo, I read about this program that uses soccer to teach about HIV to youth, and found it intriguing. Knowing how much she loves soccer, I called my fellow PCV, Syd, to see what she thought of it. She said she’d let me know when she had a chance to read about it. That was at the end of last year. Time passed.

Then one day I get a message from her saying “Let’s join our Community Health powers and do this thing!” Since the program has not yet come into the South Pacific, we decided to pilot it here in Port Vila and just see how it went. We both came into town and, in three days, had it planned and were ready to begin (and whew what a few days that was).

Long story short, IT WAS AWESOME!  So much fun, such awesome people, great venue (Wan Smolbag soccer field), and support from random places. Oh, and hundreds of pictures. Here’s a taste. More to come.

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Each cone represents risky behavior–no touchy!Image

I really wanted to join them in doing these exercises, but I just couldn’t resist taking pictures of them.Image

Feeling like a coach. Weird. And cool.ImageImage

Sexual network.

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Meet Frank. We met him two days before the whole thing kicked off. We told him what we were doing and he committed himself to co-facilitate the whole thing with us at the drop of a hat. This man doesn’t sit still. He coaches just about every sport Wan Smolbag has to offer and is anxious to get more life-skills for youth activities into the Wan Smolbag basket. He blew us away, always there before us and stayed late. Any glitch (and with only three days of planning, there were plenty), he was on it. Couldn’t have done it without this new insta-friend.

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Syd is brilliant. She came up with the most awesometastic soccer-related icebreaker during a break between “practices”. I hope I get to work with the girl plenty–in any way. She plain and simply kicks butt in every way possible.Image

Cheer: FIFA WORLD CUP!”

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Signing the contract. These are the pictures that should have been at the beginning of this post.ImageImage

And last but should have been first, the two bags full of hundreds of condoms that lived by my hotel bed, reminding me each morning before the event started of what was coming. :)

Keep an eye out for more! So many pictures and so much fun! Hope you enjoyed.

Bak Bakegen…Bakegen.

With less than 6 months of service to go, both Peter and I are feeling the pressure of trying to wrap up our involvement in things, not take a single minute for granted, and preparing for starting life in the States again.  For this town visit, I should be here two full weeks. I’ll try to make up for lost time with interesting posts and updates. I’m a bit pooped for anything too in-depth now though, so I’ll simply throw a bunch of pictures at you for now, then get serious later. Enjoy. :)

Remember when I posted the story about the wordsearch craze? Well this is what our village looked like at that time:Image

 

Then there’s that time the French Navy came to film the donation of rain tanks to villages surrounding ours (ours was the port, but not the recipient. I may have giggled like the child that I am at their tiny shorts.Image

An example of the exciting hand made posters I make for classrooms.Image

STAMPEDE! That’s me standing there like a deer-in-headlights on the right… Image

This is the way we wash our hands, wash our hands, wash our hands! This is the way…Image

Too adorable to leave out: our sis being justifiably proud of her sculpture that masters the art of rubber balancing. Image

Papa Joe and his main man cleaning kava… you’re never too young.Image

Then I played sports for a while. I’m equally able to have fun as suck. Unfortunately, I’m also equally capable of injuring myself.Image

Just two of the 3 Stooges.             Image

The full 3 Stooges trio. I need to get video of these goofuses playing together uploaded. I’ll figure out how to do that…someday.Image

Rennovation of the tippy-tap! This time the whole school got involved. Here are a bunch of kids carrying rocks/coral/sand in their shirts for the soak away (after they popped the tire on the school wheel barrow).Image

Testing, testing. Yes! Even the smallest student can use it! Success!

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The team responsible (all class 6). [from left to right, Andrew, Netai, Shila, and Mini]Image

We stole the microscope from a dusty corner in the clinic, got it cleaned up, and BAM! The kids get to see an ant’s teeth for the first time. Now if only we can find a lens that can see bacteria or something… Image

And the latest, Peter helping me eye screen all the primary school kids.Image

Christmas in Retrospect

As many of you know, we were lucky enough to get visitors over Christmas! My brother and his wife spent 10 days with us here in Vanuatu~ The first week on Erromango and the remainder in Port Vila.

Because they have much better internet back in the States, we just let them upload all of the pics and videos we compiled during the holiday and the rest of their visit.

For photos, click here.

For a really awesome video of our puddle-hopper landing at our village’s non-commercial-approved landing strip, click here.

And last but not least, click here if you’d like a bunch of our host brothers, sisters, and cousins to sing happy birthday to you. :)

Enjoy!

(Case in point, I tried to upload just one photo to this post, and today it’s just not going to happen. So enjoy these links!)

 

Swimming In the Rain in Vanuatu: A Quick Story

MOMA Rain Room 2 horizontal
Stolen from http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/strolling-between-the-rain-drops-inside-momas-rain-room/

“God is in the rain!”

I had been saving my to-do list all week to do today, Saturday, the day there was nothing I could do for the Peace Corps office. When I stepped outside with the intention of walking all over Port Vila for the rest of the day, I was reminded how sheltering a western-style building can be (versus the bamboo walls of my house on Erromango). During my lazy morning I had been completely ignorant of the fact that it was POURING RAIN. For anyone who has spent time in Vanuatu, you know this weather is not exactly conducive to being productive.

Most people who know me know that I used to adore a good downpour. When grooming dogs, if I noticed bucketfuls of rain pouring from the sky, I would put my dog away and take a moment to dance in the rain, with onlooking co-workers and clients probably wondering what was wrong with me. Rain simply evoked my need to embrace that very moment and otherwise not have a care in the world.

Due to no longer having the convenience of power dryers at my disposal, rain has since become, at best, an excuse to hide in my house, and at worse, a hindrance to accomplishing anything at all until the sun peeked out again, with the promise of extreme humidity, high levels of mosquitoes, and plenty of mud.

So, faced with a thunderstorm with a long walk ahead of me this morning, I decided to recall and embrace my Portland-Enlightened self and rejoice in the rain. I turned away from the bus stop and started walking.

Within minutes my glasses were rendered useless, so I took them off. Suddenly the ground was much further away and I was towering over the mud and rivers beneath my feet. I felt like I was on top of the world! Feeling euphoric and full of glee, I grinned and waved at every person I passed. Lucky for not wearing my glasses, I could only see them wave back without seeing how many facial expressions were communicating my perceived insanity.

Apart from the waving I could make out from under awnings, inside buildings, and inside vehicles, I took note of the buses that were passing by me. There was quite a bit of traffic swooshing past me on the half flooded road–and every single one of them went out of their way (sometimes WAY out of their way) to not spray the muddy lake on the road onto me. It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to notice the continual small things humans do for each other. It felt SO good.

Long story short, as I was simply enveloped by the wet embrace of the rain, I was reminded that whenever I so choose, I–and everyone and everything I encounter–can tower over the muck and simply bath in the goodness of the moment.

Who needs therapy when we have rain?

p.s. To read about the last time I so thoroughly enjoyed puddle diving, click here and read about Peter’s and my one evening in Chicago.

Peter is published! Peace Corps Prime Directive

So here in Vanuatu the Peace Corps have a publication that volunteers can contribute to. Here is Peter’s latest contribution!

Peace Corps Prime Directive

In the Star Trek universe, the Prime Directive states that to interfere with the development of any culture or civilization is prohibited, and this includes avoiding first contact until that population has risen above faster than light travel (or warp technology).

This is going to start off nerdy, but there is a point, and it is relevant to all Peace Corps Volunteers.  In the Star Trek franchise, the Prime Directive is usually about technology, and only infrequently about any other oblique form of information, with the exception of knowledge of other intelligent life. This implicitly suggests that technology; especially new technology has an inexorable impact on culture, and the evolution of that culture.

New Technology Sticks Around

There is stickiness to new technology, I believe for two reasons. The first reason is that new tools allow us to do something either we couldn’t do before, or to do something in a new fashion. Once we have habituated to using a new tool or device, we resist returning to a previous tool. We lose skills that were necessary before the introduction of the technology that lead to that tool’s introduction.

The second reason is what I will call the toy factor. This is the aspect that encourages individuals to buy new models and newer versions of devices that they already own. To some degree this can make a lot of sense. Buying a new model of car that has new safety features, such as seat belts or air bags is a reasonable upgrade. Buying a new phone with either an mp3 player and/or a camera, albeit not better than the camera you already own- this is a toy upgrade.

Technology has an irrepressible impact on a culture and the evolution of that culture. We in the West have been aware of this for some time as can be substantiated by the existence of different strains of technophobes as well as the historical Luddites and contemporary Neo-luddite groups.  These groups, part of the English working class in the 19th century, feared losing their jobs and way of life due to an advancement in technology.  They have known that technology changes things like cultural strata and organization, not necessarily for the better. Once it is embraced, progress tends to be one way. With the exception of the Amish, hardly any ever give it up for a more rudimentary way of life.

Where is this unstoppable progression of technology leading us? Quite possibly to a state of affairs where we are incapable of living without them.  Once technology has been accepted and taken hold, it is difficult to reverse the impact it makes on a society.

In War, Technology is Transmittable

‘Tech gulf’ (similar to the idea of the bomber gap or missile gap during the Cold War),  is a term that I will use to describe when there are two different cultures, one of them with technology that is superior to the other. Should these two cultures compete, assuming they are equal in every other way, having superior technology will be an advantage to that culture. Being exposed to a culture with an advanced technology will be disruptive to your own development, either to its benefit or detriment. Think about the technology Ni-Vans can leapfrog over, skipping coal burning electrical generators and moving directly to solar panels. Also, the least advanced culture suffers the risk of being exploited by the more advanced culture, because as stated by Arthur C. Clarke’s Third of Three Laws, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

The tech gulf does not need to be restricted to merely military or weapons tech; a tech gulf can exist to profound impact in economics, government, communication and intelligence gathering. For instance, the US proved superior in economic tech when we defeated the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

Star Trek Prime Directive vs. Peace Corps Prime Directive

Let’s now explore the principle behind the Prime Directive. The unspoken premise in the Star Trek universe is that all cultures develop (or fail to and stagnate) towards a “universal cosmopolitan order.” (This phrase is borrowed from Immanuel Kant’s essay, “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose” in which he argues that a universal or world war involving all nations will bring about a collective distaste for war, effectively ending war as we know it.) At such a point, they are ready to intermingle with other races and intelligent life and join the confederacy of planets. But they are not ready until the race has conquered such domestic issues as civil war, poverty, inequality, etc… For some reason, the development of FTL travel or warp drive technology is thought to only be possible to a society that has become a universal cosmopolitan state.

After a culture has mastered these domestic policy issues, it is then possible to interact and share culture and technology with them without fear that said interaction will derail their moral and civil development.

The Peace Corps has a Prime Directive too. Not to avoid interference but quite the opposite; to aid development, to build capacity and to diminish dependency. We interfere with other cultures at their request, but we try to avoid the moral hazard of spoiling them or subjugating them to our culture.

We are in the midst of a grand age of globalization: of technology, of commodities, of information and of services. This is a patchwork project with no overarching philosophy or end. Sovereign nations and NGO’s and corporations all determine their own ends and the means to pursue them. It is a world where some people proclaim and strive to bring about the supposed right of internet access alongside the universal need for clean water. I do not mean to disparage any one project or goal, rather merely to show there is no unifying principle, everyone steers by their own stars.

What Gets Left Behind

Since coming to site, I have had the experience of seeing globalization in action. I have learned the history of Western impact on these islands that we now reside on. I am (of course), not responsible for all so-called white man interactions with this culture, and yet at times I have thought, “We caused this,” and by “we” I mean Western culture. I have seen a village of subsistence farmers struggling to find ways to join our economy; some to find ways to pay for schooling and Western education, others to pay for laptop computers and TV’s. I have seen people who struggle between the values of Christianity that were fostered on them and the remnants of custom values left to them.

To be fair, this is just the way of the world- the clash of diverse culture has been the stuff of the recorded history of humanity for three thousand years. Every interaction has been a contest, the winner has spread their culture and the loser’s culture often disappears. Where before the Mongols came with the tech of mounted archers and the recurve bow, and the Spanish came with the musket and the galleon, we come with wireless devices and Google. Before, the clash of different cultures was motivated by , the looting of goods to sell. Today we may have become less violent as individuals, but we are still motivated by new markets and the profit that can be gained by the trafficking of goods.

Many Ni-Vans have already succumbed to the siren call of our society—captivated by our entertainment industry. After the first taste they are drawn into the web of participating in our cash-fueled economy at the expense of their traditional island economy of plenty.

Let me pose some questions now-

A.              Should our values dominate their developmental values without debate?

B.              Should we try to protect them from the damaging influence of our values and technology, much like Spock and Kirk must?

C.              Can we protect their agency and seek to only do good by offering improvements and amelioration?

I will try to answer these questions, but invite others to share their viewpoints to them as well. Questions A and B set up a false dilemma, an either/or scenario that are not the only two options. Rather, a third position somewhere in the middle is preferred. There should be a debate on this issue. Let them choose which values and goals to pursue, democratically.

I feel that this is what was missing in the work of the Missionaries before their Independence. The message Christianity delivered was, “You are wrong. Read the Bible.” Ni-vans are passively choosing our materialist values without the benefit of the deliberation of that choice – or without the realization of what they were likely giving up. Population wide consensus on this issue is unlikely any time in the near future. But that shifts the burden to us to inform them of the possible outcomes and perils of their choice. We cannot educate every man, woman and child, hem wan; but we can reach crucial numbers of individuals to start the conversation in a meaningful way.

The answer to Question C seems to be ‘No’ and yet modern man has repeatedly sought and failed to do just this. The frontier between two cultures is described as one civilized and the other (at the worst) barbarous, savage or (at best) simple or noble. Is this a comparison of religious beliefs or art or language forms? No, respect for those complexities always comes later. At first it is a comparison of technology- with one being ‘higher’ and the other ‘lower’. To be fair, there is more than this going on, and I have neither the wit nor space to paraphrase Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel”; While geographical underpinnings might have had the causal power in giving one society an advantage or edge over another, I am speaking directly to the impact of relative levels of technology between cultures.

But not until modern cultural anthropology have we really considered judging them based on something other than what we value. I feel morally horrified and ethically superior when they mistreat dogs and other animals or when they have unaddressed sexism and domestic abuse. If it was turned around on us- if we were judged by our values- then even though we value egalitarian and humane treatment of animals, our culture is still horrifying and falling short.

It’s Up To Us

At the risk of losing you, my reader in a quandary, I give you my (imperfect) answer to this dilemma. I believe in the right of the individual and the collective culture to decide and grow in the direction it sees fit. To determine the wisest direction means having a proper education and ability to think critically. This is why I am in support of mandatory education- to develop the mind and the character to be capable of good critical thinking skills and being able to make mistakes, bounce back from them and learn from them.

Early on in the 20th century, America had a very ‘hands off’ approach to foreign affairs. In some regards, it seems an isolationist approach is more respectful of other cultures than our last six decades of activity in this sphere. But this is moot- the eggs are broken, we can either throw them away or try to make an omelet. And since we have done the egg breaking ourselves (through aggressive trade, insurgent democracy, infiltrating cultural media, and destruction of resources potentially necessary for self-sufficiency) we cannot take a stance like that of Switzerland or Bhutan. I feel we should- that is, we are morally obligated to try to make something of the situation. Nations like Vanuatu have no opt out option- they have already been contaminated by the outside world, so to speak. So knowing this, how do we do right by them, so that they can develop freely, so that they can choose for themselves their own values?

Given an understanding of the problematic situation facing us as American cultural ambassadors, there is wisdom in Star Trek’s Prime Directive. Like newly graduated medical doctors who take the ages old Hippocratic Oath, “First, Do No Harm,” we as a nation should try to fulfill the Peace Corps Prime Directive- to aid development, build capacity and seek to diminish dependency. The danger is that while we are in country seeking to do just that, American foreign policy is promoting dependency around the world.

This blog is solely our thoughts and opinions and do not reflect those of the Peace Corps or the United States government

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