PC Vanuatu

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Wedding Island Style
At the beginning of this month I got the opportunity to go to my first Vanuatu wedding. It was not in Lelepa, but in our sister community located on mainland Efate - Mangililu. Weddings in Vanuatu are week long events - the actual wedding taking place on a Friday.
Thursday morning I headed out for my first taste of the festivities. The main event of this day was the final supper of the girl with her family. It is an important kastom that before the girl goes off to join her husband she sits in her house one last time with the family around her. This is especially important if she is marrying a man out of the community because in Vanuatu the woman always follows the man and lives in his community. If this community is far away that might mean that the woman never sees her family again. -- One side story I found out while storiingon with some Mamas about Vanuatu weddings. One Mama in my community when she was in secondary school came up from her island - a long way away - to Lelepa for a school holiday. While in Lelepa she met a boy that she liked. As it turned out her family had planned for this and had sent up all of her stuff in advance and money to present to the family of a boy should she find one that she liked. Before even going up to Lelepa her father had already given blessings to her uncle to negotiate a bride price and wedding. So instead of going home she got married and has been on Lelepa ever since. Just recently her husband got a chance to go back to her home island where he took pictures for her of thel family she hadn't seen in over a decade. -- So back to Thursday - the meal for the final kakae was of course Laplap. As I wrote before Laplap is a very labor intensive food - especially if you are trying to feed over 100 people. So all day I along with the Mamas of Mangalilu and Lelepa scratched hunderds of coconuts, yams, and bananas. Giant fires were made, thousands of volcanic stones were thrown on top for pre-heating before the Laplap was buried in the middle of them. By the end of the day we had made 14 laplaps - some of these being giant ones measuring 5ft by 3ft and needing 4+ Mamas to carry them and put them on the fire. It was an undertaking of massive proportions. Mamas always complain that laplap is hard work - and yes it is but it is always a big social time full of storion and lots of laughs. I think if this kastom ever disappears this time together would be missed and Vanuatu would lose a part of its magic.
Friday the actualy wedding ceremony took place. The first event was the church service. The picture on top is the bride and groom getting ready to go into the Church. The pair on the right are the bride and groom, the other pair are their witnesses. The church service is pretty much the same as ours - I hear this part I skipped out on (as did most of the rest of the two communities) in order to get ready for the rest of the days festivities. After Church we all ate - Laplap once again of course! Once that was done and everyone put in an hour or two of good quality rest time it was time for the kastom portion of the marriage. The first part of this is putting the woman at the man's house. Everyone in the woman's family meets at her house and loads her stuff onto sticks. The stringband comes and all together we dance/walk her to the man's house. I and one of my grandma's danced our way down the street. When we got close to the man's house his family came out dancing -- chasing us and making us dance backwards. We than approached back again, they chased us once again. After this happened a few times we were finally invited into the house and we all danced our way inside. As we danced through the door way Mamas dusted us with baby powder - a sign of congratulations. (Us dancing our way inside is the second picture). After a few toktoks we all headed back to the woman's house for the final ceremony - buying the woman. Just like we have salary caps for professional atheletes, Vanuatu has salary caps for women. The most money you can pay is $800. This is not always followed as with every law here, but it is the law. The woman at this wedding was bought for some vatu ($), a pig, some yams, and mats. In addition her children were bought with a small pig. In Vanuatu many couples have children before they are married - than at marriage time the man must pay the women's family for looking out for the children until he married the woman.
Than at night the families dance stringband and other island music until the sun comes up again.
It was a fun experience and one that definately brought me closer to the community and understanding all that is Vanuatu. It is a magical place and an amazing blend of the new and old.

Well this is too long. Sori!

I hope this finds you all well!!! Lots of love and keep in touch!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Home Sweet Home!!!

(Pie - the brown puppy and Ruth - the black one)

Hello friends, family, and all!I have been a terrible blogger SORRY mainly because I am just not technologically inclined and was just frustrated with this site. Also, sometimes it is hard to just put into words what is going on in Vanuatu. But I am going to give it a go back again to post pictures and keep in touch. BUT please if you read this -- especially family please send me an e-mail ktgrace@gmail.com - because I realize I am missing a lot of T e-mail addresses.

It has been a very busy last few weeks. Really settling into site, learning the hard way what approaches work and don't work, and just learning more about the culture.

Most exciting I have moved into what will be my house for the next two-ish years. As much as I love my family here it is great to have a house of my own and a stove of my own. I live in a half custom, half modern house. The main room of my house is tin on the outside with a Natangora thatch roof. At first I really wasn't too excited about the tin because it is ugly and during the hot season it acts as an oven making the house more unbearable in already unberable temperatures (so I am told - we have yet to hit the hot season, but I heard that when it comes it is rough). But when my Papa couldn't finish the house my favorite Pabu (some family title - a grandpa of sorts) came in and bought the rest of the tin to complete my house for me. This was a pretty big investment so I felt very lucky to have a family that made that investment in me staying on the island. Too once I hung the calico on the walls I think the main room kind of looks like a log cabin tropical retreat. The thatch roof is supposedly to keep the house at a really pleasant temperature year round - cool in the hot season and warm in the cold season. The only drawback to the thatch according to my Mama is that you cannot hear when the black magic man lands on your roof at night. The floor of my house is pieces of dead coral which is our kind of gravel. On top of that we put big pieces of cardboard on the floor and than on top of that pandanas mats. Each of the Mama groups 0n Lelepa got together and wove a mat for me to put into my house. The extension of my house (which you can see behind my puppies) is a bunch of bamboo posts. On the outside the Mamas wove coconut leaves and than nailed them on the outside to cover up the holes. This extension will serve as my kitchen and eating area. The community also built a toilet/swim house for me up by the main road (one of two roads on Lelepa). The toilet is wonderful! It is an actual toilet that the community stole from French Survivor. It doesn't flush but we manually flush it with a bucket. The only drawback to my toilet is that a hand sized spider has decided to take up residence inside the bowl. Really, it seems like a less than ideal spot for a home, but I can't seem to get ride of him. We've reached an understanding though so he'll stick around for a while. So this is my home sweet home for the next two years.

Well I am going to run, but keep in touch everyone! Miss you!!!!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Woman Lelepa
After another delay after my last post I finally made it to site and am 'woman Lelepa' officially.
The arrival back was a little anti-climatic. I think after so many days where I was supposed to be coming people just ended up giving up and not believing that I was actually coming. I did have a little welcome meeting though with the council of chiefs. The assistant chief gave me rights to live and work on Lelepa and to become a part of the community.
Probobly the most exciting day of the week was this past Sunday - we celebrated Children's Day in church. Children's Day - which was actually Monday - is a national holiday in Vanuautu - all offices are closed to celebrate. All the parents of group 4 - a little section of our Church - decided to celebrate Children's Day they would make all of their kids matching island dresses and island shirts - this time instead of green we had a bright orange calico - and instead of being with a bunch of other peace corps volunteers it was me and a bunch of ni-Van kids. In celebration all of us group 4 kids got up in front of Church and sang a song to our parents about how they should take care of us and teach us like Papa God takes care of us and teaches us. After we all went and had a kakae (food) at one of the families house. A kakae in Vanuatu has a very specific order in how things happen. First, island time - people just slowly trickle in - if it starts at two o'clock everyone might trickle in by 3-ish. Once everyone arrives and the men settle down on the benches on one side and the women and kids settle down on the mats on the other side the ceremony begins. First, who ever organizes the kakae gives a small toktok (talk) thanks everyone for coming, for preparing food, and sometimes gives a little history about the day. After he invites someone to grace the food. After that the organizer calls on one or two people to start the food line. We eat. Once that is done it is time for toktoks back again. Slowly different people stand up and tell stories or sing songs. Usually at least one person from each group represented has to give a toktok. It's slow going at first but soon everyone is giving a toktok. After that and everyone has storiond finish, the organizer stands up once again. Usually picks someone to lead us in a worship song or two. Offers a final closing prayer and than gives final thanks. The whole process lasts a few hours. It's fun and it makes any occassion feel like a special ordeal.
Well life is good. The pictures on top - the first is of my two new puppy dogs. The brown/white one is Pie and the black one is Ruth. The are 4 weeks old and a handful - a little young to be away from their mom, but their mom ate a poison fish and died so now I am bringing them up. They are adorable and are a good distraction on the island. The second picture I just took this morning while I was waiting for the boat driver to show up and take us over to the mainland to come back to Vila today. July 30 is Vanuatu Independence Day. I am in to see the celebrations. I think it will be exciting to hear about Independence and see a celebration where most people remember the time where France and Britain were the ruling powers under their joint condominium (Vanuatu just got independence in 1980).
Well that's all for now. I miss you all --- keep writing!!!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

So it's official, tomorrow I am heading back to site or actually off to site for the first time as an official Peace Corps volunteer. Lelepa is a small island of about 150 acres. There is one community on the island and in total it takes about 3.5 hours to circumnavigate it. In World War II American troops were stationed here. There is still a lot of evidence of their prescence around the island. We have a plane crash - brought down by friendly fire, some anchors used for securing a large underwater net to block submarines from entering the harbor, lots of old coke bottles from the 40's (a huge tourist item), and concrete blocks for holding the guns. Another little interesting tidbit about Lelepa is that it is where Survivor Vanuatu was filmed. The actual camps for Survivor were on Efate, the main island, but they used our sand beach as the locations for all of the challenges that they did. It is definately going to be an interesting place to live for the next two years with lots of beautiful places to explore and reefs to snorkel.

The whole work assignment is still a little piecemeal and pretty much they just want to get me out of the city. I am happy to oblige. I spent the first week here buying all of the stuff that I will need to fill a house. The second week I spent getting SCUBA certified (which is one of the most fun, amazing things I have been able to do), and now I am ready to head back out to islands and wash the city air off of me. I am homeless, but I get to move back in with my host family and help construct my own house, which should be really interesting -- this is where Habitat will come in handy. As far as work I have a bunch of little projects that will be going on between my island of Lelepa, a community on the mainland called Mangililu, and another island between the two called Eratoka or Hat Island.
-My main responsibility will be helping the island start monitoring the reef and developing a coastal management plan.
-I will also be helping create a general water use mangement plan - one of the challenges of Lelepa is that there is no fresh water source on the island. All of water is either rain water or we paddle over the mainland and fill up bottles at a water source over there.
- I may also be involved in a large fisheries project that may hopefully be starting up soon, but I am not too sure yet what this involves.
-I will also be helping with a project that another volunteer has already started and is working on. The area that I live in is in the process of being nominated to become a UNESCO World Heritage Area due to its historical significance. Eratoka or Hat Island is home to the only mass burial grave is the South Pacific. It is the grave of a famous chief Roy Mata who is known for bringing peace to Vanuatu and creating a totem system. (In this totem system I am a yam)
- Finally I will be doing projects with the Mamas and the kids of Lelepa too.
So apparently I will be busy, but all of this may or may not happen and that is where the Peace Corps flexibility will come in. I am ready to get started though and see what comes of it.
To steal from ACT, my little mantra for the next two years will be "It's all a part of the challenge."

Sunday, July 02, 2006

These are pictures from our swearing-in ceremony.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Well it's official. I am now a tried and true, sworn-in Peace Corps Volunteer. This past Monday we had our swearing-in ceremony. It is a lot like a graduation but more intimate, a lot shorter, and instead of wearing caps and gowns all the boys had matching calico island dresses and island shirts. After the ceremony we all had a huge island feast with the host families. At the center of our table in true polynesian style (we're in melanesia) we had a roasted pig, some men went over to the mainland and killed a wild cow (which run rampant over that way), we had plenty different fruits, and than root crops galore (the true island staple). In addition to the aelan kakae (island food) we had a huge bucket of kava. After all the food settled we played in the fashion of the world cup, a USA versus Vanuatu futbol game. The US came out victorious, but I think that at any given time during the game we outnumbered their player 3 to 1. I will say we had one disadvantage (at least the girls)- playing in an island dress is not an easy thing. Sometimes the ball would bounce under my feet and I would lose it in the numerous folds of my island dress. That night we danced the night away to the island fashion music - stringband. This is not a music I can really explain, but let me just say every song sounds the same with variation in words only and maybe a few words thrown in in between. I love dancing to it though A. because everyone in the community loves (at least all the Mamas and pikininis (kids in bislama)) B. because it has one style of dance only C. i can actually dance to it -- so it's good fun.
The day after swearing-in it was time to say good-bye to our families who had welcomed us into the country. It was a tearful morning. We all met on the beach and the whole community lined up to shake our hands or give us hugs. We formed a line and worked our way through everyone shaking hands, crying, and hugging. It was hard. They all stayed on the beach and waved us off.
Little did I know.....
When I came back to Vila (the capital/big city) I would be coming back. Yes, I am no longer battling sharks off the coast of Espritu Santo. Instead I have been reassigned - partly because the tiger shark thing was just a bit of a hurdle to doing coastal resource mangement. When trying to come up with a last minute site the Peace Corps decided why not just go with a place we already know. So I am heading back the place that I called my paradise for the next two years. This Tuesday I am getting my official work assighment, so more on the reassignment later.
Until than I miss you all! Keep writing!!! Especially now - I am in the city for at least another week and Happy 4th of July!!!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Here are some pictures. I can't quite see what I ended up actually getting online, but these are all pictures of Lelepa my training island.
Back again soon!

Hello everyone!! Sorry it has been so long. Things have been hectic - or as hectic as they can get when your living on "island time". Two weeks ago we finished up the first part of training - our intensive language course. I feel okay with the Bislama. If you heard it, it may not sound that hard but trust you me hemi wan hard samting. As a close to the final week all trainers gave a three minute toktok in bislama.
This past week they sent all of us out on walkabout. This is where we go visit our sites for the first time. Get to look at the area we will be spending the next two years and meet the people of our future homes. My site is a small island just off the coast of the biggest island - Espiritu Santo. The name of my island is Tangoa. It is a breeding ground for tiger sharks - which makes the coastal aspect of my job seem a bit difficult. But I am fulap other ideas or tingting for the community. It is definately different than Lelepa (my training village) in that snorkeling prospects not so good, everyone talks in their native tongue - which is one of the amazing things about Vanuatu - it has more languages per capita than any other place in the world -- about 100 languages for 200,000+ people -These are languagues too, not dialects, (back to Lelepa) and people just don't laugh as much. On Lelepa it is joke after joke and I absoluetly love it. I know that I did not feel this way right away though, so I am going to give it a go and see what happens. Some up sides of Tangoa/Santo is that it is super tropical and full of beautiful coconut plantations which have mainly been converted to cattle farms and crystal clear streams.
Well again I don't have time to go on because we are running around the city for the day visiting all the different ministries we may be working with.
I miss you all!!! Continue to write!
I did get a new name