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.

So, what do you actually DO in the Peace Corps?

Ok…So what kind of work do I do here in Vanuatu, and Peace Corps in general? This is one of those questions that is a great question, and an obvious question to ask. One that anyone could and probably even should ask~ and they do. All the time.

It’s also a question with which I always feel so at a loss to answer: What DO I do here? The lack of clarity in the answer to that question has indeed been one major source of psychological instability this past year.

So let’s see if I can break it down.

First, Peace Corps Volunteers are all split up into different regions (me: South Pacific), then different posts/countries (Vanuatu), then different programs (Vanuatu currently has Community Health, English Literacy, and IT Education), and then finally individual sites. I am a Community Health Facilitator in a village on the island of Erromango. So what does that mean???

I facilitate the health of my community! Or something like that. But what kind of health? Environmental? Social? Mental? Physical? Am I simultaneously working as a conservation biologist, social worker, shrink, and doctor? With nothing but a BA, I sure hope not~ though my host community was some degree of surprised that this was not the case when I first got there and couldn’t treat every ailment they could find. Or any of them, for that matter.

So what DO I do?

Being able to cook--local style--can be a huge part of integration.
Being able to cook–local style–can be a huge part of integration.

Well generally speaking, Peace Corps first trains us in the cultural and language skills necessary to move into our host community and begin the process of integration—living with/near a host family in the village with a similar lifestyle of everyone else in the community. Integration really takes up most of our time, particularly during the first year. This step is exactly what makes Peace Corps unique from every other international organization of its kind that I’ve ever heard of.

The purpose of integration is to build trusting relationships and cultivate a deeper understanding of the community. Only then can a volunteer really work with community members to help them decide what they need to be healthier and happier (at least in the case of the Community Health Facilitator in Vanuatu—the only Peace Corps experience I can speak for).

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Graduating from cultural, language, and technical training.

Next comes the technical training… that, as you can tell given the large umbrella it takes to cover the concept of “community health”, covers quite a broad scope in the case of my specific program. During the first two months in training, we’re trained—a little—on everything from sex ed to youth leadership to water and toilet development projects. And lots in between. We then take the micro-training they give us for each of these macro-topics to our village with us, figure out what the village wants to do with us through thorough integration (hopefully), then pick out which micro-skills need to be expanded on to be more useful for two years at our unique site. All the while we are intended to pass our knowledge and skills (that we often end up just learning as we go) to as many community members as possible, making our work during these two years of service sustainable.

Or to put that last point another way: the more we work as we’re intended (as can be understood from our job title)—FACILITATING behavior-change, access to resources and education, and development projects that the community does the work for with our guidance—the more the community learns how to do all those things on their own, can continue after I leave, and the more the work I do during my two years has a lasting positive impact on the people who I lived and worked with. It’s grassroots, straight up. But with a lot more grass and roots than any grassroots project I’ve heard of in the States.

If that’s confusing, try contrasting it with the organizations that show up, dump materials and/or money and/or whole development projects in a community, then walk away. Sometimes these projects are necessary for things we consider global human rights (like access to water), but sometimes the community doesn’t value or understand them the way the organization probably hoped, and the money, materials, or project gets misused, abused, or in some other way ultimately doesn’t last.

So what has all this looked like for me? Well, this is long already, so I won’t go into too much detail. You can see a lot of the specifics in various blog posts. But basically I got to our village in December 2012 and just started getting to know people—who for the most part were terrified of me at first. I did community surveys and a workshop with community leaders that helped them look at and discuss the health needs of their community to decide next steps and create action plans. We created some big plans for a Rain Tank Project and a Toilet Project, made committees, got excited, and I realized early on that my community was amazing and we were going to have the most kickass first year any Community Health Volunteer had seen in Vanuatu.

Then the committee members went and lived their lives and never came to meetings. My time began to revolve around scheduling meetings, re-scheduling them, begging and pleading with them to come, trying to casually stir motivation, and eventually getting extremely disheartened and all but giving up. That’s when other things started to pop up, all on their own.

Through collaboration with various people who do various kinds of work in our village, I have:

  • Created a public question and answer board that covers topics from health to education to culture to politics;

    Getting and unexpected public "thank you" at the end-of-year closing of the pre-school.
    Getting and unexpected public “thank you” at the end-of-year closing of the pre-school.
  • With a counterpart I taught a term of health to grades one and two, helping the kids understand and be confident and considerate of their bodies (baby steps);
  • I’ve done various small family planning workshops for mamas of all ages who desperately need the information;
  • The nurse, midwife, nurse aid and I started a weekly exercise program for mamas (though girls and women of ALL ages come) which is easily the most fun thing I do each week;
  • I taught the alphabet to all the pre-school kids all year and also did some “kitchen kindy,” where some pre-school kids would come to my kitchen to play educational games and get more individualized attention;
  • Peter and I both do “homework hour” 5 nights a week, when kids of all ages come to us in our host family’s kitchen before dinner to do intensive studying—either getting help with homework or asking for extra work which we then help them with.
  • And various other things that can be read about on our blog.
  • Oh!!! And just recently, the Rain Tank Project Committee, after nearly a year of my nagging, has begun to pull together and get stuff done. Finally, it’s looking like that project will move forward, bringing CLEAN drinking water to about 600 people.

So yup, I think that about sums it up. In a nutshell, I do anything and everything I can while trying not to get bogged down by the constant reminders of everything I can’t do.

Again, everything I say here is pretty specific to Community Health volunteers here in Vanuatu. I can speak a little to the English Literacy Volunteer experience just because I live with one, but this has gone on quite long enough. For now, it’ll suffice to say that his experience has been strikingly different in many ways, though the basic philosophy and integrative strategy are the same.

I hope that was somewhat interesting and/or informative. If any specific part of it strikes you as something you want to know more about, comment or email me and I can easily elaborate quite a bit more on just about anything I talk about here.

My biggest fan and I. (Our cousin-brother, Avi.)
My biggest fan and me. (Our cousin-brother, Avi.)

Sam and Jill lookin’ out for Vanuatu’s animals

With parasites, a variety of possible skin infections, scarce food, and a culture that doesn’t treat them anything like human children, life is hard for dogs, cats, and arguably domestic animals in general in Vanuatu. There is one shelter located in Vila that’s here to help. Sam’s Animal Welfare Association is like Vanuatu’s Humane Society. They administer vaccination, host de-sexing events, and educate communities about the importance of animal health. Given the poverty of infrastructure in this archipelago, they can’t reach everywhere~ but they do good work where they can.

Living thousands of miles away from our home country, Peace Corps volunteers come into Port Vila, often from very rural and isolated villages, looking for some comfort food. For them, there is Jill’s Café, a lovely place to enjoy a burrito, omelette, or cinnamon roll without having to embark on a trip away from the South Pacific. Seriously, access to this kind of comfort food can make or break a PCV’s service.

So (to personify these two places whether it makes sense or not) what did Sam and Jill do to make me think they were both even more awesome than I already thought they were? They made a bookstore for tourists in the middle of the café, the proceeds of which go to support the work of Sam’s. Keep in mind Port Vila (the capital of the Republic of Vanuatu) is a town limited to a small library and a bible store in the way of decent reading material.

This idea rocks. And generally makes a quick trip into the café turn into time flying as we stare at the wealth of books.

Thanks for being awesome, Sam and Jill.

Peter, PCV, in a daze over so many potential books to take back and share with our rural village on Erromango.
Peter, PCV, in a daze over so many potential books to take back and share with our rural village on Erromango.

Primary School Closing and Graduation 2013

Auntie Evelyn congratulating her son Roger for blowing his own records out of the water this year. We are SO proud of this kid!
Auntie Evelyn congratulating her son Roger for blowing his own records out of the water this year. We are SO proud of this kid!

Peter will have to come in and caption these, since I wasn’t there~ but here is the culmination of some of Peter’s hard work this year: the graduation of Years 1 and 2 at our primary school. At the end of the first term, precious few students were passing their tests (50% to pass). By the end of year, those numbers more than doubled. Good work, Mr. Peter! And good work to the students!

P.S. Sorry for there only being a few pics… these were all I could get to load.

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This is the panel that awarded certificates and special awards to the children of the Port Narvin Primary School.
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This is the graduating class of 2013 from the Primary School, aka Grade Six. I am not sure why none of them smiled, I took three and this is the best one. Five of these children passed, and will now have to pay to go to secondary school~ Grade Seven.
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This is the school kids awaiting the presentation and ceremony. When a child got a certificate, a parent would go up, give them a present, usually candy and sprinkle baby powder on them. Our Host family’s children took overall first place in Grade One, overall first place in Grade Two and many first places in Grade Three. It was almost a shut out! I am very proud of the kids, they really did do a lot of work this year. And, I hope they are building skills and habits for the rest of their lives.

Random island pics~ Sept-Oct

Little sister Esther quizzing her friend on English's 100 most used words.
Little sister Esther quizzing her friend on English’s 100 most used words.
Auntie Yam and little sister Victorinne cleaning kava for us.
Auntie Yam and little sister Victorinne cleaning kava for us.
Corey visited us in our village to celebrate Tafea Day with the rest of Erromango.
Corey visited us in our village to celebrate Tafea Day with the rest of Erromango.
Peter went back to grade school!
Peter went back to grade school!
Oh, Peter's TEACHING grades 1 and 2.
Oh, Peter’s TEACHING grades 1 and 2.
As much of combined grades 1 and 2 as I could fit into one frame.
As much of combined grades 1 and 2 as I could fit into one frame.
Hair cutsssss. The kids collected all my hair as it flew away. Not sure what they plan to do with it....
Hair cutsssss. The kids collected all my hair as it flew away. Not sure what they plan to do with it….
Part of the audience I got when getting my own hair cut on the beach.
Part of the audience I got when getting my hair cut on the beach.
Corey re-mohawking Peter. Clippers run off of solar power = winning.
Corey re-mohawking Peter. Clippers run off of solar power = winning.
Albert (left) and Suzanne (right). They lived in our swim house (where we bucket bath) and protected us from the mosquitoes that wanted to take advantage of our nudity~ Sadly, they both recently packed up and left. They stayed with us for a solid 6 months or so. I'll miss them.
Albert (left) and Suzanne (right). They lived in our swim house (where we bucket bath) and protected us from the mosquitoes that wanted to take advantage of our nudity~ Sadly, they both recently packed up and left. They stayed with us for a solid 6 months or so. I’ll miss them.
LOVE this picture of Alikton, little clown that he is.
LOVE this picture of Alikton, little clown that he is.
First days in our new kitchen! Suuuuper exciting. It looks much nicer and more put together now though.
First days in our new kitchen! Suuuuper exciting. It looks much nicer and more put together now though.
THIS white man CAN jump. Playing volleyball with the mamas and kiddos.
THIS white man CAN jump. Playing volleyball with the mamas and kiddos.

 

I also had pics of our garden…but they don’t want to load. Next time. Hope you enjoyed these random treats!

Peter’s 40th Birthday~ Island Style!

While I was lucky enough to enjoy cider, cheese, huge amounts of chocolate, and American company on my birthday here in Vila, Peter’s birthday fell after we had been back on the island for several weeks. Since manples (locals) don’t generally celebrate birthdays–indeed they wouldn’t generally remember when to celebrate them–I figured it was up to me to make Peter feel celebrated as he enters his 5th decade. Luckily, I was completely wrong about that. I did a terrible job planning ahead, but our island friends and family more than made up for it!

 

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To begin, my counterpart and her mom and sister woke us up at 5am to deliver 5 BEAUTIFUL flower arrangements, made completely by their own hands out of local materials, and sing “Happy Birthday” to Peter. Anyone who knows how much of a morning person Peter is will understand how much he appreciated it right off the bat.

I forgot to get pictures in those early hours with the flowers AND the people, so I had my counterpart come back later for a snapshot. At this point Peter had been teaching for 4 hours and was slightly more awake.
I forgot to get pictures in those early hours with the flowers AND the people, so I had my counterpart come back later for a snapshot. At this point Peter had been teaching for 4 hours and was slightly more awake.
Later that evening, we headed over to our family's nakamal for dinner, where I snuck out the two cakes I had discreetly arranged for a mama to bake. She made them beautiful. Peter ate one single bite.
Later that evening, we headed over to our family’s nakamal for dinner, where I snuck out the two cakes I had discreetly arranged for a mama to bake. She made them beautiful. Peter ate one single bite…eventually.

 

What that moment looked like *with* a flash. That's Alikton on the right.
What that moment looked like *with* a flash. That’s Alikton on the right, with his mom Auntie Evelyn and our cousin Giana.

 

After being informed that Papa Joe was preparing his birthday kava, Peter sat down (as he was told) to wait. This time being the normal hour for homework and studying with the two whiteman to begin, the kids slowly start to move in.
After being informed that Papa Joe was preparing his birthday kava, Peter sat down (as he was told) to wait. This time being the normal hour for homework and studying with the two whiteman to begin, the kids slowly start to move in.

 

Getting the message, Peter assumes the position.
Getting the message, Peter assumes the position.

 

And away we go!
And away we go!

 

Eventually, I surgically extract him from the crowd of his crazed fans for his Birthday Kava.
Eventually, I surgically extract him from the crowd of his crazed fans for his Birthday Kava.

 

If this weren't so washed out, there would be a great kava face here. Oh well. That's Papa Joe on the left, and another uncle in the center.
If this weren’t so washed out, there would be a great kava face here. Oh well. That’s Papa Joe on the left, and another uncle in the center.

 

My turn! Luckily, he didn't catch my kava face either.
My turn! Luckily, he didn’t catch my kava face either.

 

And the next morning....
And the next morning….

 

Ready to get back to the primary school grind...or something. (hair credit to Auntie Yam, who attacked his mohawk with beads the night before.)
Ready to get back to the primary school grind…or something. (hair credit to Auntie Yam, who attacked his mohawk with beads the night before.)

 

The end! Or at least that’s all I captured with the camera. Hurry and enjoy before he gets into town and sees what pictures I’ve posted of him. ;)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I’m grateful for?

Many things! But in particular, I am grateful for one of the people I don’t have the good fortune of spending this Thanksgiving with: Peter.

As some may have noticed, I’m back in the capital with internet access, but Peter is not. He is still in our village, being a good soldier. So I thought I’d make a Thanksgiving update about Peter–one person I am so utterly and completely grateful for having in my life.

These last few weeks have been hard for him as school winds down, leaving him plenty of time to reflect on the past year, worry about next year, and realize how being so busy at the school all the time has left little time to get to know anyone more that 9 years old in our community. Luckily, he found an accidental solution to this last issue:

Particularly in our time spent giving much-desired extra homework to primary school students throughout each week, homemade wordsearches have gotten quite popular. They take anywhere from 10-45 minutes to make, and about 5 minutes for each student to complete. But they LOVE them. So, when Peter started to wonder how to keep his students’ brains working over their long summer break, he thought: Wordsearches!

The printer at the primary school was officially working again, so he took a package of printer paper and printed 20-30 copies of about 17 different wordsearches. Using up the entire package of paper, he figured he had printed enough to get his students through the break. He would just give those who wanted one a single wordsearch at a time, then they’d have to bring them back completed in order to get a new, different one.

Before school was even officially out, Peter had students from every grade at the primary school, from the secondary school, mamas, papas, and even grandparents asking for wordsearches to fill their time. Before the official closing of the school, he ran out of all those he had printed. So he took another package of paper to the school. I hadn’t even left yet, and I could walk around the village and see small, silent clusters of people of all ages standing around staring at a piece of paper.

Peter was worried that while I was in Vila, he would have nothing to do and no one to talk to, because everyone thus far has been too afraid to approach him. Now, he can’t relax to save his life. From the moment his bladder forces him out of bed at 6am, until the moment he locks the door around 8pm at night, he is constantly receiving visitors in our kitchen asking for new wordsearches. The only rules are: A completely one must be brought back before a new one can be received, and anyone who wants one must come in person.

Not many people are afraid of approaching him anymore. His social complaints have swung from feeling like an outcast to feeling like he can’t get 20 minutes alone.

Because he desperately needs a break from everything in general, he’s hating it. But apart from needing a break, the whole thing is fantastically wonderful. Three cheers for Peter. :)

Peter and his pirate cat, Bella.
Peter and his pirate cat, Bella.

Coming soon: Peter’s 40th birthday celebration: island style. (That post will be mostly pictures.)

Bug’s Kitchen Kindy

One of the secondary projects that has made its way into my service has been to work with pre-school kids, mostly on their alphabet. This past year, I’ve spent one hour per week in the “kindy” (pre-school) teaching the 35ish students (and the two kindy teachers) the English alphabet, one letter at a time. In addition to that, I’ve accrued a collection of students who come to my kitchen 4 days each week after lunch to play, have stories read to them, and practice their alphabet in what I call my “Kitchen Kindy”. These pics are all from the kindy closing a week or two ago. If I knew how, I’d upload a video of the kids singing the alphabet with me (complete with actions). But for now, enjoy these pics!

Star student in my Kitchen Kindy and cousin-brotha Patrick and Papa Bob.
Star student in my Kitchen Kindy and cousin-brotha Patrick and Papa Bob. This boy is more primed and ready for 1st grade than most kids our village sees.
Teacher Julie surprising me a thank you for my help this year and an invitation to return to an upgraded position in the kindy next year.
Teacher Julie surprising me a thank you for my help this year and an invitation to return to an upgraded position in the kindy next year.
I'm totally caught off guard. And totally excited about my new basket.
I’m totally caught off guard. And totally excited about my new basket.
The fam. Uyo, Yam, Giana, Torinne, Patrick, Peter...
The fam. Uyo, Yam, Giana, Torinne, Patrick, Alicia, Peter…
Peter! With Uyo in the background.
Peter! With Uyo in the background.  DSCF2739
A rare picture of Mama Claudie, the quiet light of our nakamal. <3
A rare picture of Mama Claudie, the quiet light of our nakamal. <3 In the background is my counterpart’s mama- another favorite! <3 LOVE these women!
Tho woman who holds my world together for me: Uyo Rachel.
Tho woman who holds my world together for me: Uyo Rachel.
Giana and Victorinne, cousin and smol sista, respectively. Also students in my Kitchen Kindy.
Giana and Victorinne, cousin and smol sista, respectively. Also students in my Kitchen Kindy.
This one also sneaks Mama Claudie in!
This one also sneaks Mama Claudie in!
Mama Claudie congratulating her 2nd youngest daughter on completing another year in Pre-School (one more to go before Primary!)
Mama Claudie congratulating her 2nd youngest daughter on completing another year in Pre-School (one more to go before Primary!)
The Kindy graduating class.
The Kindy graduating class.
Auntie Yam giving a salusalu to Mark in lieu of Chief Dick (my big Papa). Mark is now their youngest living son. [RIP Maeka. :*( ]
Auntie Yam giving a salusalu to Mark in lieu of Chief Dick (my big Papa). Mark is now their youngest living son. [RIP Maeka. :*( ]
Uyo, as temporary gaurdian of Giana, delivers the baby powder and salu salu congrats to Giana, another star of my Kitchen Kindy.
Uyo, as temporary guardian of Giana, delivers the baby powder and salu salu congrats to Giana, another star of my Kitchen Kindy.

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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