Time and time again, I have been told that I need to write more. Writing is a valuable skill and, for me, a great outlet. It seems that there also people out there who enjoy reading what I write. So, I would like to get in the habit of exercising and developing this skill, ideally by making regular blog posts–perhaps a new one each week? But I am no longer living on an exotic island that limits my focus to a conceivable number of topics. I’m back in the big bad world of connectivity and information.
So I need your help to figure out what to write about. Assuming the fact that you’re reading this quick note means you are one of those people interested in reading what I write, I ask you: What do you want to read about? What questions pop into your head when you glance at my blog that seem to be left unanswered? What else can I do for you?
Please, leave comments below or contact me otherwise. If I get enough of a response, I will start writing weekly blog posts to go with the requests. That’s not saying I won’t go in some random unexpected direction with a suggested topic, but that’s the fun of reading/writing, right?
And here’s a picture of me working on a new and fascinating piece:
Has it really already been a week since Cyclone Pam tore through Vanuatu? I suppose it has! As is always the case, there is good news and there is not such great news.
First, the good news: so far, there are minimal casualties in all of Vanuatu! I have directly heard back from almost all of my friends and family who live on the main island, and all of them are safe.
The bad news: There is still no word from the island on which we served for two years, which means no knowledge of how our host family is doing. This is the case for countless others who are counting the days since they have heard from their loved ones. Also, while the people endured in the face of a Category 5 cyclone, it has yet to be seen whether they will endure now that their livelihoods have been destroyed. Most of Vanuatu’s population, including everyone in the village we lived in, feed their families solely with their gardens as subsistence farmers. Those gardens are now gone, and will take months if not years to fully recover. Now they not only must rebuild their homes, schools, clinics, and churches, they need to recover any source of clean water that was destroyed, and start from scratch in cultivating their gardens.
This is where some of the good news comes back in: You, Me, and Everyone even so far away, We Can Help! Here is one way you can help if you live here in Utah:
In light of Vanuatu’s massive losses after being devastated by Cyclone Pam, we are holding a 10 Day Kakae this Sunday, March 22nd, where we will:
Give you a chance to taste the Pacific region’s most famous custom: kava! (If you want, that is.)
Provide a small assortment of the SALT Bistro’s tasty treats
Stand With Vanuatu by making contributions to the organizations that are giving emergency assistance and will be helping them rebuild. There are prizes!!!
Please join us at the Salt Bistro at 209 E 500 S in Salt Lake~ We will be there from 12:00-3:00pm, so drop by whenever you can!
Not available? You can still Stand With Vanuatu. Scroll down and choose one of the organizations below and make a donation now, while you have a minute! We will have a shell in your honor at our 10 Dei Kakae. :)
These are the organizations currently working with Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office to provide aid and recovery to our family and people like them. Click on a link to go directly where you need to be to support victims of Cyclone Pam:
OXFAM works to help governemts, businesses, and communities be as prepared and strong as possible. They assist organizations in working together to build a stronger future.
The Red Cross focuses on first aid training as well as responding to crises, helping under-resourced communities across Vanuatu.
World Vision staff assess damage and distribute pre-positioned relief supplies including food, clean water, shelter materials, hygiene supplies, and cooking sets.
UN Women in Vanuatu supports the protection of the women and girls affected by this disaster, and invest in reconstruction that will benefit women and their families
UNICEF works to ensure that communities have the knowledge and resources necessary to provide for the needs of their children.
CARE works in communities across Vanuatu, preparing the people to face disasters such as this, and gives them the skills they need to respond and rebuild.
It is Vanuatu’s cultural tradition to mark the end of grieving with a big meal 10 days after losing a loved one. For the 10 days leading up to this meal, the family is cared for by the village, giving them time and support to grieve. On the tenth day, the family gives gratitude with their “10 Day Kakae,” feeding everyone who has been so supportive, and allowing them to return to their work. On Sunday, we will have our our 10 Day Kakae, marking our support in the country resuming their hard work, moving forward, and rebuilding a new paradise in Vanuatu.
Click here to see how some of the amazing people you are helping get down.
While we were living in our little bamboo village on Erromango in Vanuatu, I don’t know how many conversations we had with our friends and family there about the environment. While the rest of the world is still debating whether climate change is real or not, places like Vanuatu can only try to learn to cope with the effects it sees from climate change on a regular basis. Things like rising sea-levels, rising temperature of air and ocean (affecting gardens and sea-life), and an increase of extreme events, such as Cyclone Pam, are an inarguable reality for them.
But that doesn’t mean they have the funds or materials to build adequate precautionary infrastructure, such as we would have in the western world, to face these catastrophic circumstances. Today I am writing regarding Cyclone Pam, one of the most monstrous cyclones in the history of the Pacific.
Pam tore through Vanuatu and is still on the move. Images are now pouring in from the capital of Port Vila, a city made mostly of concrete, showing heart-stopping destruction. Meanwhile, I’m wondering when we’ll begin to hear from the outer islands like Erromango, where we lived and served for two years. They have some concrete buildings, but the majority of structures are built from bamboo and leaves.
Please share the links to the organizations that are providing immediate relief to bamboo villages like ours. If you have the means, choose your favorite organization below and make a donation. They will need all the help they can get*.
UNICEF’s Cyclone Pam relief fund: UNICEF works to ensure that communities have the knowledge and resources necessary to provide for the needs of their children.
OXFAM’s Cyclone Pam relief fund: OXFAM works to help governemts, businesses, and communities be as prepared and strong as possible. They assist organizations in working together to build a stronger future.
That moment in the car, bass booming, me singing, that I suddenly stop. I just stop. Stop and realize that I have been taking the joy of my technology and the freedom of my music for granted for days now. I thought nothing of it. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for the simple details that add flavor to our lives.
Then I remember that as I sit there feeling the vibrations of my sound system, my Vanuatu family and friends are preparing to be smashed into by two major cyclones. At least, I hope they’re making preparations. I have no way of knowing.
This moment on the same day we finally received a couple of the packages we mailed to ourselves from Vanuatu more than 3 months ago.
When I was preparing to study abroad in Egypt, I was warned by many well-meaning friends and family that they do not treat women well there, that women are harassed on the streets every day. I was told to buy a wedding band so people would think I was married, to never walk alone, to do all these things to save me from the patriarchal culture.
I didn’t have a single experience of harassment while I was in Egypt (though the circumstances in January-February 2011 obviously weren’t the norm in Cairo, nor what I planned for, I was still always treated with respect).
However, the harassment I was warned about—cat-calls, whistles, general disrespect—is not at all foreign to me or the women I know. I grew up experiencing these things in Salt Lake City and its suburbs; I experienced it as an adult in Portland; and now as a 28 year old woman I still get it here in Utah. The most common incident, in my experience, occurs when I am walking down the street—the time of day, what I am wearing, all of that is irrelevant. I’ll just be minding my own business when a car drives by, a head pops out a window, and a whoop, whistle, meow, or inappropriate remark is flung at me, a perfect stranger.
I remember talking to my friends when we were 14-15 years old about how we handle it: giving the harasser the finger, cursing at him, just ignoring him. We argued about what was the best way to assert our right to respect. The truth is, especially in these drive-by assaults, there is absolutely NOTHING the woman, girl, or even unfortunate guy who is receiving harassment can do to impact the situation. We are completely powerless. And perhaps that’s the point.
I have spoken to guys (and women) about these experiences, and I get a variety of responses, but two more often than others. The first category consists of people who say “boys will be boys, at least they’re not actually hurting you.” Then there is the second group: guys who are shocked into disbelief because they have never witnesses this kind of behavior.
To the first group, I say this: Imagine a perfect stranger treating you like a prostitute, and not giving you an inch of opportunity to make him feel bad for it. If it happened just once—who cares. He doesn’t know you. But now imagine that experience on repeat. Several times a week, starting when you’re a tween and throughout your adulthood. Different men calling out to you like they own you. Compound that with everything in your culture saying your value lies first and foremost in being attractive. Then when someone acts like they have a right to your body—even just to call out to it from a car—you have no power to say otherwise. Sure, you can brush it off, tell yourself it doesn’t mean anything. I do this every time it happens. But if you don’t think it adds up, you’re in denial. Imagine your daughter or sister being put in this powerless situation on a regular basis. How many times a month, a week, a day would she need to be subjected to harassment before you think it will start to impact how she feels in public spaces? Before it will impact her self-image? Before it changes what value she thinks others see in her? Dealing with this BS simply becomes part of what it is to be female, whether we like it, or even acknowledge it, or not.
To the second group—guys who are shocked that this experience is so common—I totally get it. I have never had this experience while hanging out with guy friends or male significant others in public spaces. So if it doesn’t happen to girls accompanied by guys, how would guys witness it happening? Unless of course you’re the one doing it, or sitting next to the juvenile a-hole in the car. But if you fit into this category, chances are you never hung out with these kinds of people, nor were the kind of friend that would laugh at and encourage this immature posturing in your friends. Since I have been married (nearly 4 years), I have decided to tell my partner about each incident I experience—and every single time, he is absolutely shocked. How could this be happening as I walk down the street in our safe suburban neighborhood in the middle of the day? Who are these people? What kind of society do we live in? He gets furious every time, and it’s almost enough to make me not want to tell him anymore. Afterall, I’ve been dealing with this behavior my whole life. The only way to deal with it, being completely powerless each time it happens, has been to not get too worked up about it. But maybe he’s right.
Yesterday he said to me, “How can men be allies if we have so little exposure to the problem that we can’t come close to grasping its magnitude?” Great point. That’s why I am writing this blog. And why I will continue to tell him about my experiences. Because face it ladies, we need guys if we’re ever going to assert our right to respect. Just like they need us as they commence their journey of defining what it is to be a man and/or human. We need them not just because they aren’t completely desensitized to the issue and can breath new fire into it, as my partner is doing, but also because there is only one group of people who can make the drive-by perpetrators of harassment feel shame: the buddies who are in the car with them.
So what can guys (and gals) do to bring shame to this behavior?
Stay aware of what is happening in our communities.
Teach our kids which behaviors are evidence of a strong, smart, impressive person; and which are evidence of slowed maturity and an inability to grow up and become a “real man,” or just a mature human being.
Then teach our kids to stand up for these values, and by doing so help their friends to not succumb to primitive tendencies that not only dehumanize their targets, but dehumanize themselves.
Walk the talk. Part of teaching anyone to stand up for their values is doing it yourself. If your friends say/do something disrespectful, say something. Don’t grow a tail and stick it between your legs.
Discuss with friends and family the fact that anyone who is treating others like a dog is necessarily acting like a dog him/herself.*
And ladies, speak up. Maybe you can’t say anything to the drive-by a-hole that will do anything other than make him laugh, but you can help the men/boys in your life be more aware of the world we are all living in. In doing so, you’re helping them be better friends, brothers, fathers, partners, and allies.
We’ve all heard the cliché, “Every man is an island.” And it’s true. We are all, to some degree, limited to our own experiences and interpretations of the world around us. But every island is connected by a vast ocean—an ocean that ebbs and flows, pulling and sharing the nutrients and poisons every landmass has to offer. We can’t avoid impacting and being impacted by the people and things we encounter. But if we pay enough attention to the life that flows around us, the people passing through, and the ripples we ourselves cause, we can enrich our communities and ultimately humanity as a whole. Saying we want clean oceans isn’t enough. We have to admit that we are living in the middle and are a part of it, too.
*I love dogs, but this is a useful idiom. Especially if you’ve ever seen half-wild, in-tact male dogs around a female in heat.
Repulsive Rumors Result in Critical Culture Confusion church in Port Narvin, 2013
That time in church when the pastor told his audience that Americans were getting implants that would allow the devil to always track them. I look at one of my all-time favorite people, mama Sonia, who is looking back at me with a look of desperate confusion, like “Is this true? What can this mean?” and I don’t know how to respond except to shrug my shoulders, suggesting I haven’t heard this big news yet. We stopped going to church before long.
The Point of Peace Corps? Perspective(also probably my favorite story ever) Port Narvin to Ipota, November 2014
Walking out of Port Narvin for the very last time, we are accompanied by several of our brothers and sisters. We brought small candies to share with them, but were horrified as they would unwrap them and toss their garbage onto the beautiful rainforest floor. Had we taught them nothing??? Peter and I rushed around to pick up the garbage. We were giggled at for our efforts.
Then, halfway to Ipota, we stop to enjoy the most beautiful watermelon I have ever seen. Hungry, thirsty, and in need of the liquefied energy boost, Peter and I dug in happily, spitting out the numerous hard black seeds as we went. Before long our 8 year old sister was running around us, collecting the small seeds off the rocks, again looking at us like we’re crazy.
So we’ll carry collected garbage with us on a 10+ mile hike, but carelessly toss the seeds of future nourishment? Thought provoking, to say the least.
Unforgettable Gratitude Mama Sonia’s kitchen, November 2014
We enjoyed a small “last kakae” (customary last meal) with Daddy Bob, Mama Sonia, and their family before Mama Sonia left for the capital to deliver her baby. As is the norm, plenty of time was spent giving speeches. Every adult in the room (5 or 6 of us) was given as much time as we cared to take to comment on the honor of the occasion, the memories from the past two years, and share our grief that the time was coming to an end. Each oration was heartfelt and touching. Nearly every one of us spoke with tears running down our face. All the while, our two little brothers, Patrick and Avi (7 and 5 years old, respectively) sat quietly, watching us strange adults go through this lengthy custom.
When all our sentiments has been exhausted, it was announced that we would commence with the feast…but before the announcement could be finished, Patrick whispered something to his mom, who then said that there would be one more “toktok,” given by our seven year old brother.
I briefly reflected on my history with this little boy. During our first year in Port Narvin, I taught at his pre-school where I saw this crazy fire-cracker of a child bounce off the walls uncontrollably. But you couldn’t be mad with him for long with his unbearably adorable smile. After I spoke to Mama Sonia about his behavior, he began joining me in my kitchen after lunch each day to practice his alphabet and be read to for an hour or so, then rejoin us in the evening to study some more. Initially shy, he worked hard and was always eager, never lost his playful and goofy spirit (especially when Avi was around), but learned to control himself in appropriate contexts. Before long, I could hear him trying to read borrowed books at his own house.
During our second year in Port Narvin, Patrick was the star of the first grade, blowing everyone away as he outperformed even some of the students from Class 3. He continued to study with us during our evening study hour. By the time of this last kakae, he had matured into a handsome, smart, well-mannered young boy whom I am proud to call by brother.
Here in front of me I saw all the shy he had ever displayed swarm back to overwhelm him, but he recovered quickly. He straightened up, looked at me, then said, in slow English, “Thank you Nompunvi and Nesi for teaching me and helping me.” Then there was that gorgeous smile again.
Tears started streaming down my face all over again, as they are now.
There are many challenges that come with being in the Peace Corps. Probably the greatest challenge, however, is being so far away from family when tragedy and challenge strikes.
Imagine then how I felt when I learned that lymphoma had been found in my grandmother’s chest. On top of the fear of losing my grandmother, I knew how much my mom would be struggling to work through the threat of losing her own mother. But there was little to nothing I could do. I was on the other side of the world. I didn’t even have internet. My grandmother beat her cancer, but is now struggling with congestive heart failure resulting from the chemo.
Within a week I learned that my step-mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. With little information to go on and no way to follow what was happening, I had no idea what to expect. Again, there was little to nothing I could do. I was on the other side of the world. I didn’t even have internet. Most fortunately, my warrior of a step-mother won her battle with cancer.
Then there was Kay~ When my brother married this incredible woman named Karen, we learned that she came with an equally wonderful family. Her parents, Kay and Gil, were among the most supportive of us while we were overseas. They wrote us regular letters, contributed to packages, and poured on encouragement and love every time they saw us online. I don’t know how I wasn’t aware of Kay’s struggle with Multiple Myeloma, which had gone on for over a decade. We had no idea she was sick until, amongst all the other news of cancer, we were told of her 6-month prognosis, 8-months before we were due to return to the USA. September 4th, 2014, she passed away peacefully in the Huntsman Cancer Hospital ICU. There was little to nothing we could do for our star supporters. We were on the other side of the world. We didn’t even have internet. We are now enjoy the breathtaking hospitality of Gil and his son, living with them in their home.
(Enjoy this picture while you take a refreshing breath to recover from all that overwhelmingness, then finish your reading with the upbeat message below it.)
Since Peter is a runner, and I’m a …volunteer-er, we decided to take advantage of our time in Utah and participate! Now that you’ve read our story, p-p-p-please click here and make a contribution to our personal fundraising. Even if it’s only a few dollars, every penny counts and it all adds up in the end. We thank you in advance!
Writing these is both breaking my heart and helping me process. Hopefully there will be balance in the end. Anyhoo, here are some more to enjoy~
Learning Tolerance and Patience…then Depleting It Vanuatu, 2012-2014
All those times we asked if someone would be interested in helping or doing something and they enthusiastically agreed—often multiple times, only to show that they truly were not committed to the idea by simply not showing up. Then them not showing up for days or weeks afterward because they are “shamed” and want to avoid confrontation. All this, we’re told, because they don’t want to hurt our feelings.
Learning to understand this behavior, see the signs, behave compassionately, and work around it somewhat successfully for two years—only to lose my sh*t over it all over again two months before we leave.
Dude, Kava Lost My Phone Port Narvin, 2013
That time Don went home after an evening of kava at our house, only to return ten minutes later shining a little light everywhere in search of his mobile phone. Then Papa Joe asking, “What kind of torch are you using?” Don looks at the phone in his hand, turns off its small light, then slips away back into the darkness without a word. And never lived it down thereafter.
Manbus’s First Canned Beverage Port Narvin, Oct 2014
That time when I opened a Johnny Arrow, then realized there was some dust and dirt on top of the can. I took a deep breath to blow all the dirt off, then subsequently blew just right to make the beverage explode all over my face (and all over everything else). I remembered to check for dust BEFORE opening a can thereafter.
Our Carbon Footprint Port Narvin, 2014
All the times we knew it had been too long since we cooked over fire based on the strength of the smell our pit toilet was emitting. (10 points and a high five if you understand why.)
Studying by Osmosis—Attempted Everywhere Port Narvin beach, 2014
Remember when you were a kid and you insisted you could do homework in front of the TV, only to fall asleep on your book? Then when you thought you were witty by telling your parents you were learning by osmosis? That happens everywhere, only instead of a couch, it was sand; and instead of the TV, it was the ocean.
For some odd reason, when we were waiting for the plane that would take us off of Erromango for the last time, Don (Peter’s counterpart and now our good friend) asked us to sign his shirt. Peter signed first, then handed me the marker. The moment I had the shirt signed, I was pulled into the throng of hugs and goodbyes as I was ushered onto the plane, the marker in one hand, its cap in the other. At the last moment, Don managed to reach through and grab the marker. As I stared out the window of the plane, Peter gets my attention to tell me “I told Don you’d end up stealing the cap to his marker.” I looked down to see that the cap was indeed still balled in my fist. Now it’s a month later and I’m typing this on one of the planes carrying us from Thailand to Utah, and I still have it.
Nothing Gonna Slow Us Down Erromango, Nov. 2014
When our aunties, mamas, and papas sang a farewell song to us over a breakfast we couldn’t touch for lack of being able to control our sobbing; then that song starting the waterworks every single time we heard it. Exhausted by the farewells, as they all joined us on the 7 hour hike out of our village to the airport we insisted no tears while we walked. This meant they could not sing that song. Instead, we taught them Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride.” We sang, whistled, and hummed it together, laughing and giggling all the way to the flight that would carry us away from Erromango.
I Scream, You Scream, Some Don’t Scream for Ice Cream Ipota, Nov. 2014
When we had the opportunity to share ice cream with our Erromangan brothers and sisters—the first time they had ever had ice cream (or ANYTHING cold at ALL—just think about that for a minute) in their lives. We (unsuccessfully, mostly) tried to capture the looks on their faces as this sweet treat burned their tongues with its strange frozenness. Our oldest sister (11 years old) tried her best, but could not do it. Before long, most of her ice cream was added to our papa’s bowl.
A little brother (3 years old) would close his eyes, stick his tongue out, and sloooooowly move his spoonful of frozen toward the tip of his tongue like it might do something unexpected at any moment.
Just when we were sure they all hated it (though we didn’t mind, it was still worth watching them attempt it), Nesi (10 years old), emerged from the corner where he had been quietly munching, his empty bowl held carefully in both hands. He walked up to Peter to inquire, “So, how much does this ice cream cost?” We laughed and Peter told him the price, adding, “That’s why education is so important! So you can get a good job that pays enough to be able to eat ice cream every day!”
Flashback: An Adventure Any Boyscout Would Be Ashamed Of Port Narvin-Ipota, 2013
My first time making the trek from Ipota, the location of the airport, to our village (rather than going on the ass-numbing boat ride)— We leave later than planned, but it’s a beautiful day. Raining off and on, we are kept cool, if wet. Most of our luggage is travelling by boat, so we barely have anything to carry; just water, some small snacks, and our mobile phones. Six hours after we left Ipota, we reach Cook’s Bay with just the hike over the mountain between us and our village. The sun is just beginning to go down. Friends in Cook’s Bay ask us to spend the night before hiking up and over the hill because it is getting late. We consider their offer, but we are both aching for our own bed. We trudge on.
Not long after we began up the hill, two unfortunate things occurred: 1) the calm, cooling rain turned into a downpour, turning the steep dirt path into a muddy slip and slide that would be sufficient for snowless skiing; and, 2) being relatively near the equator as well as under a dense canopy, “the sun starting to go down” suddenly turned into just plain dark.
So we hiked up and over an unfamiliar and steep and impossibly slippery hill at night in the rain, with terrible shoes (Peter in water shoes, me in soaked tennis shoes), and no light other than the pathetic torches on our mobile phones—and it was all we could do to keep the phones from getting soaked in the rain.
Our host family (still new to us at the time) called us every 10 or 15 minutes, tracking our progress like worried parents, but also making it more difficult to focus on the difficult climb due to adding the struggle of answering the phone so often. Eventually they dispatched Papa Joe to meet us close to the top of the hill and guide us down the other side.
It wasn’t until the next time I made that hike that I learned I was on a slippery path on a mountain with steep drop-offs, often on both sides of where I was walking—in the rain—at night.
Flashback: She* Gives Me Fever Port Narvin, 2014
When all three Erromango volunteers got dengue fever in succession. Corey first: 106°f fever in the sweltering heat of March in the tropical Southern hemisphere; Peter second, an equal fever and inability to move during the nice, cool, but violent weather of Cyclone Lusi; Me third, 104°f fever that begins as soon as the sweltering heat returns, this time the heat accompanied by renewed humidity and me by a body covered in hives—oh and by frustration/envy of Peter who barely noticed the cyclone go by and enjoyed constant cool wind throughout his fever.
*’She’ because, if I remember right, all mosquitoes that bite you are female. And, of course, dengue is transmitted through mosquito bites.
Oh no! We have to plan for our lives to start again now! Ah! HEEELLLPPP!!!
But really only kinda. We know what we’re doing with our lives, it’s just not starting for 6-8 months, and we don’t know where that will be yet. We want to build lives of service, starting with Peter going to law school to study social justice, and me furthering my experience in refugee resettlement assistance. But to transition from our service overseas to putting down our routes for our domestic service, we are going to need all the help we can get. Until we move to where Peter is going to school, we’re trapped in the gap, whether we mind it or not.
So we need to plan for the interim—the majority of which we’re likely spending in Northern Utah. We need to plan how we’re going to do it: where we will live, what we will do to fill our time, how/what we pay for, etc. If you’re interested and/or able to help, here’s what we’re taking into consideration:
Volunteering at IRC in SLC
Intro to volunteering Jan 7
Won’t know where we’re moving until March/April
May not be moving until August-ish
Peter wants to take post-bacc/pre-law classes
Short term income would be nice
Don’t have/want to spend money (as little as possible) until we move
Graciously want to enjoy time with hospitable friends and family without outstaying our welcome or being obnoxious or burdensome guests.
So here’s what we need your help to answer:
Where can we stay, when, and for how long (and for how much)?
Is there an opportunity for short-term employment for either of us?
Where can Peter take classes?
If we are far from volunteering/work/school commitments, what about transportation?
Any suggestions, offers, connections, tips, or anything that anyone can give us is welcome—and we are infinitely grateful to you! Thank you all in advance!
This blog is solely our thoughts and opinions and do not reflect those of the Peace Corps or the United States government