The art of walking upright Is the art of using both feet... One is for holding on The other is for letting go...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A few pics

VFF Cup Northern Champs: my work-organisation. ah woooo

The kids doing the fairplay flag during each game... Ale pikinini

The LFA team, discussing matches, gating etc

Me and wan of the guys from football

With some of the girls from football at a referee's wedding

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Misses Blong Football

As you may have guessed by now, I tend to do a lot with football in Vanuatu (which I find a little ironic seeing that I thought my days of football were behind me). What started off originally as an attempt to meet people and keep busy has now ballooned into what is almost a second fulltime job. Ah woo.

It started off with pikinini, and last year was a big year for U12. We held two major tournaments in Luganville, to find champions for U12 for Luganville and then the northern province (Penma, Sanma, Malampa and Torba) U 12 Champions to go down for the finals in Vila. Throughout my time here I've been a big supporter of Kamewa School, and luckily their team, with Sainte Therese, went through to the finals. With the organisation work I'd already done with the tournaments, I was lucky enough to go down to Vila with the two teams and ended up staying with them as an official. The kids were great and I think pretty amused that a Misses would sleep on the floor with them!

At the same time as the tournament, the NZ All Whites came to Vila to play the Vanuatu squad. With the pikinini we got into the stadium as invited guests, with the kids being ball boys/girls or being part of the opening ceremony. NZ won 2-1 (which was lucky) but it was an amazing event to see, with such a huge crowd at the stadium and people in trees and on roof-tops around the park.

The following day we took the kids for a jaunt around some of the tourist attractions in Efate, including an outdoor aquarium with sharks and turtles. Then we went to the FIFA Academy at Teouma for a look at footballs training area: very flash indeed!

Monday was a rest day with the games starting on Tuesday. There were 8 teams in the competition: unfortunately Sainte Therese came 4th and Kamewa 5th, however the team from Pentecost (which came third at the northern regional finals in Vila) won the competition and are now heading to New Caledonia this year and the chance to go to France. Hopefully a team from Luganville will make it through this year.

Following this tournament I stayed in Vila for an extra day and was lucky to see an U17 team from Luganville, Kings United, win the Sportswell Tournament at the FIFA Academy, while being looked after by the attentive FIFA Referees who were officiating the matches.

Back to Luganville, we were charged with organising the U15 boys and U19 girls National Tournament. This tournament is still the worst week in my life in Vanuatu... needless to say it was a combination of poor venues (the use of the local stadium for a week that doesn't have toilet facilities, water, electricity or security), lack of funds or control in Luganville, and the reliance on teachers to help when it was during their holiday! Not to worry.

On the women's side of things, we ran a successful tournament: the Hotel Santo Cup, at Unity Park last year. Sia Raga FC won, followed by Vaum United and my team, Side Riva United, came third. Hotel Santo will sponsor a tournament again this year and we've also had another company come in to sponsor the first league starting in March. We've also got a coaching clinic on Saturday mornings for all women and women referees.

Somehow, at the end of last year, I ended up going to a meeting for LFA (Luganville Football Association). If you attend, you generally become part of the committee, and the meeting was about the 2008 calenda. I put my two (or four) cents in and before you know it, I'm helping the marketing officer find sponsorship and organise tournaments. We've luckily secured a sponsor for referees fees (did I add that I'm now doing refereeing as well?) although sponsors for tournaments is a different story.

While its pretty flat out at the moment, there's lots of good stuff happening with football that will hopefully help bring back sport to Luganville. For the past two years there was very little sport, with tournaments beginning and not finishing or not even starting.

If you're interested in whats going on in football here, have a look at the following website:

There are a lot of my photos from the NZ vs Vanuatu and Together Kids Programme.

Yours in football


Christmas and New Years Second Time Around

Amazing! The second Christmas and New Years here. last year was a decidedly ex-pat/baby doc affair. This year I was keen to do a more Ni-Van holiday, and I guess that reflects that most of my close friends are Ni-Van here.

As with all things in Vanuatu, plans are likely to change. Plan A (sounds familiar) was to go to Malekula with Rocky and his family, but following an aborted Sanma Mini Arts Festival (Chief Calab Sur who was a formative member of the organising committee, passed away on the second day of the festival following a custom ceremony the night before. Due to custom the festival was then cancelled) they were unable to get enough money to go.

Having lived in Vanuatu long enough to know that a Plan B-F is probably useful, Bridget and I decided to Christmas at Side Riva with Isabelle, Bong and Isabelle's family and friends. After finding our "secret friend" for Christmas presents, and making some classic Christmas treats to bring with us, we headed to Side Riva on Christmas Eve, enjoying a swim with the pikinini, helping prepare for the party and storianing.

Donning our island dresses, Isabelle, Bridget and I headed to midnight mass at Sainte Therese, joining Warren and Christine (new First National Real Estate owners) outside to listen to the mass. Then it was back to Side Riva for the presentation of gifts (with plenty of powder and perfume sprayed around) and then a sumptuous feast including a suckling pig. The music started, the whisky flowed and pretty soon an all night soulee was in progress. As I spend a lot of time at Side Riva, I tend not to get too much hassles from the boys (ie "Misses, me luvem yu"). However, it was Bridgets first time there, so like a new toy at Christmas, she had to contend with three 15 year old boys, one 60ish old man and a guy from Air Vanuatu. Ah woo, especially when the three boys are hanging off her at once! At about 4 o'clock in the morning, we called it quits and retired to the safety of Isabelle's mums house.

Christmas day is more about the pikinini, so lots of swimming, kakae and spel smol.

In between christmas and new years Bridget and I were invited to a wedding at Reef Motel, so we donned the Mother Hubbards again and went with Malvina to her cousins wedding. A lot of the family from Malekula was there so it was great to catch up with everyone from Lavalsal. The ceremony in true island style started 2 hours late and was very western. Later that afternoon we went to a house at Pumpstation for the custom presentation of gifts and speeches. While I've been to a wedding here before, this was the first time that I saw how the women of the bride openly grieved for the loss of the girl to another island (even though they had a 7 year old daughter and were living in Vila). Some of the women seemed inconsolable, although the display of such raw emotions at weddings, funerals etc is expected in the appropriate circumstance).

I returned to Side Riva for New Years which begun with a First Shave Ceremony for a neighbours firstborn son, Rex. The first shave is done by uncles of the boy and the ceremony is to welcome him to the beginning of adulthood (although it was definitely stressed in the toktok that it was the beginning, and there was a long road to go before he was a man). Plenty of powder again (everyone loves shaking baby powder on you at events), kakae and drinks. Then a smol soulee at Isabelles house followed by another kakae at around 10pm at her brother's house. Just before 12 we jumped into Bong's taxi and headed for the streets. At midnight all the trucks and taxis in town drive from one end to the other, beep-beeping, while people stand beside the roads singing aot, throwing water bombs etc. Lots of fun! Back home, more kakae, dancing, although an earlier night for me and in bed by 2am. Phew! The beginning of 2008!

Final Visitation for 2008: Tauranga Crew

Firstly, wan bigfula sori from we me no bin writem wan sumting longtaem finis. Sori Tumas!

As in the fashion of Vanuatu, you will have forgiven me whole heartedly (and will do so again in the future when I don't blog for an equally long time), although you may be miffed at not receiving a mat, pig or yam! Its just hard to send overseas...

The last visitors for 2008: Pip, Andrew, Glenda and Renee, arrived to the beginning of the hot (and sometimes rainy) season. Accommodation at Decostap (numba wan pool blong swimswim), the mecca that is Luganville to explore, what more could you ask for!

After hiring a pretty flash hilux, we headed to Oyster Island for Friday night, to enjoy the sumptuous offerings of this renown establishment... particularly the enormous seafood banquet. The next day it was off to Lonoc Beach, our base to explore the northeast coast of Santo. Swimming at Champagne Beach, admiring the "little paradise of Port l'Orly" through the rain, swimming at the blue hole and of course plenty of spell smol and G & T's. However the highlight would have to be the superb trevaily caught by andrew during a mornings fishing excursion.

Back in town, the girls helped officiate a Hotel Santo Cup match at Unity Park. They also had the opportunity to make laplap, with a friend of mine. From purchasing the yams, island cabbage and other choice ingredients, preparation and cooking of the laplap (with a bit of basket weaving to pass the time). It was one of the best laplap that I've had!

On the final day I made sure to get Glenda a mother hubbard dress, which she wore without shame for the flight to Vila (I've subsequently donned an island dress on the odd occasion for work or events thanks to Glenda's inspiration).

Thanks for a great visit guys, it reminded me how much I love NZ!!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Where did the island time go?

kava with Jack, Tony and ? , Jack's Pentecost farwell

Football teachers: and wan missis

Well, I've been in Vanuatu exactly a year now... I actually went to Port Vila a week ago, stayed at Eratap Village and hung out with Jack at the Kaiviti village motel, basically the same exact things I was doing at the same time in 2006! Bizare.

Things have been really busy lately. Jack, left a week ago, so we had plenty of leaving do's to attend. They ranged from the Chapius Pentecost family gathering with kava and pig at the Anglican Church, the drive around in a matiz taxi for an afternoon with a few beers, to the party at Jack's house with "fight oclock" and robot dancing (?). I'll definitely miss Jack, both for his friendship and understanding of this place, particularly the storianyarns.... Rorchy for life!

One of Jack's projects here was to help establish a cultural centre.... and the torch has been passed to me now. So I decided to follow Jack to Vila, to meet with EU, NZ and Aussie officials, the chairman of the cultural council, check out the cultural centre and get a bit better feel for the project. Vila is very different to Luganville, and although it was very worthwhile, I was quite pleased to get back home.

The next big thing on the agenda is the beginning of the Hotel Santo Cup 2007: Women's football Tournament. Following on from the Independance celebrations, I managed to secure sponsorship after completing some environmental assessment work for Kim from Hotel Santo. So this week is the opening of the tournament, which will go from the 11th of Sept to the week before christmas, with games being played on tuesday and thursday afternoons at unity park. We've got 8 teams participating and hopefully it will lead to registered leagues next year!

Also with football, I've been on a coaching course this week with all the Northern Island sport teachers... really interesting and always fun hanging out with the teachers. Friday afternoon we had a good kava session to finish off the week at my friend Lina's kava fundraiser.

Work at the Sanma Province is building and I'm now working on the development of a draft sanma province plan, basically for the south eastern part of Santo which is starting to experience a lot of development. There is a little bit of Environmental Impact Assessment work as usual but plenty of other things to keep occupied with.

On the sporting front, there's plenty of training and games for netball, handball and football, its just a matter of finding time!

Missions in Malekula

Hair turned in Lakatoro

Waiting to escape Vao

With the ladies after church at Lavalsal

Morning on the Northern Star

Spel Smol: somewhere in the jungle of Malekula

Our first stop at Malekula on the northeast coast

Cultural Centa, Lakatoro

It was time for a new adventure. Helen had planned to come for a visit and was keen to do some outer island exploration, so we looked at the options and decided to go for the island of Malekula: it was close, big enough to have lots of travel options, and I had a friend who was keen to show us around.

As an aside, we had a 7.2 Earthquake in Luganville the week before Helen arrived. No water for a while (again), a few damaged wharves, cracked roads and buildings. Pretty violent really... lasted for about a minute with a really violent joult. anyway....

Helen arrived on the evening of the football party, which heralded the beginning of her island kakae experience (Helen would be on a par with my family for the volume of laplap and island kakae eaten in a week). The Side Riva girls arrived, island time of course, with soso laplap, other food, kava, a stereo system, and a wide variety of zouk music. Let the party begin! Lots of good food (for those laplap appreciators out there... this one had strips of ripe banana in the yam laplap... very good! Like finding hokypoky in the icecream.... okay, maybe not quite) and attempts to dance to Zouk music. Definitely harder than it looks. Noise restrictions ment the party finished a little early, but we were all tired so it was a good thing.

The next day we met with Malvina, our guide for Malekula, and dined yet again on laplap. We decided to try and get a ship on either the Monday or Tuesday, so the following day Malvina and I did the usual driveby of the two Malekula wharves looking for ships going to Artchin Island. Eventually we found the Northern Star, which was leaving on Monday night (although the first time had been Monday Arvo, classic vanuatu travelling times). So that evening, we headed to Simionson Wharf, storianed with the captain who had lived in auckland for three years, met a girl from eastern Europe travelling to Vila on the ship, and eventually found a spot at the rear deak of the ship and tried to get some sleep.

The passage across to Malekula was good, and we reached Malekula at about 3am, but had to wait until it was light enough for cargo to be loaded so anchored of the northwest coast until dawn, listening to the chorus of birds in the jungle as the sun rose in the morning. In classic island boat travelling style, we inched our way along the coastline, picking up passengers and ngatangora roofing material along the way. Eventually we made it to our destination for the morning: Heckinsons Bay, to look at the Yalo Cave. Malvina's sister lives in a village close by, so we ate, spel smol, then made our way to the cave, only to be told that there was a dispute and namele leaves at the entrance, so no visitors allowed. Definitely a pity as the cave is quite famous here for the tree that grows inside it, handprints on the ceiling and the stories that go with the cave.

After a swim in the stream, we headed off at 12pm to begin our walk across the island with Malvina's sister, two sons and husband. At about 2pm we got to the "halfway" point the village of clearwater... no one in our party had been across from this point, so we asked for directions and were shown an alternative route, as the main route had too many garden roads that we could get lost on.

And what an alternative it was.... past the tamtams, down into a stream, following the stream till we basically reached the head of it, clambering up gullies, walking along the edge of a hogback ridge that separated the two catchments, walking across a steep hill with what might have been a track before the last big rain, back down through streams and finally reaching a village. Luckily there were pompemose (grapefruit) along the way, as our water was running low. As the sun began sinking below the horizon, we continued to walk through plantations of coconuts and cocao, finally making it to Lavalsal, our home for the week, at about 7.30pm. Bucket showers and more laplap and a bigfula sleep in Malvina's mum's house, and plenty of spel smol the next day. Amazingly all done in jandals: very island style.

The next day we relaxed in the village, had a look at the new spring that had come up from the recent earthquake, and spel smol. We headed to Lakatoro the next day on the back of a truck. Lakatoro is the Provincial Headquarters for Malekula, wo we visited the town, cultural centre, market and sorted out flights for the return leg to Santo.

Later that week, we also walked up the coast to check out the island of Vao. I thought Jack had said it was a good place to go to (apparenty, a different island, Vao being a little bit crazy!!!). We were on the lookout for carvings, and happened to meet a man along the road with some at his house for sale, so as the rain began to pour down, we headed to his place, brought some mask carvings, and waited till the rain subsided to find a boat to get to the island. The solwata was pretty rough (as it had been since we got off the Northern star) but we made it safely to Vao and headed through the mission school. A friend of Malvina's proceeded to lead us through, up to the nasara, where custom dances take place. Unfortunately, no cameras are allowed (which we were told after I'ld snapped off a quick pic of the tamtams), so we were quickly ushered through to the carving nakamal... It was a fairly uncomfortable situation, having been told off and then expected to purchase a carving, so we looked carefully at the kustom (and not so kustom) carvings, did a small toktok about how we had already purchased some but would come back with all our friends (yeah right) and headed away.... We came across another nasara and a crazy oldfula who told us not to use cameras or videos. We explained that we'ld been told this already and just wanted to see the pig-killing stones and tamtams.... but as we headed towards the nasara, he ran after us, thinking we were taking pics!

It was time to leave Vao

So we headed to the solwata, and eventually waved down the boat to pick us up... luckily a local truck picked us up and we headed back to the friendly faces of Lavalsal.

Otherwise, it was a great opportunity to see Malekula, meet some great people and live a bit of island life. And it was back to civilisation on Saturday to pick up Tom from the airport and out to Beachfront Resort for beers and pizzas (what, no laplap!) to farewell Peter who was returning back to NZ. The next day, we swam at the Matevulu Blue Hole and then went for dinner at Oyster Island, before Helen and Tom headed to Irikiki Island Resort for relaxation and the pool bar....

Independence Celebrations

Football Celebrations! Side Riva United: Independence Week Champions

Childrens Day

Custom Day at Unity Park

handball team

Luckily for the newbies to town was Independence week, basically a week or so celebration of Vanuatu achieving independence from France and Great Britain. Luganville went from sleepy town to action packed (and back to sleepy town of course)...

The celebrations kicked off with Childrens Day. My friend Desmond had a stall at Unity Park and I’d been asked to cook some cakes for the day, so all five of us (Rach, Marv, Bridget and Robyn) proceeded to bake and ice a range of kiwi classics the night before (including ginger crunch) to raise money to send Desmond to teachers college next year.

As with all things here, we kicked off Children’s Day with a march down the main road. I’ve been working on a project with Desmond’s class for story writing, so took photos of his class during the day for the kids to create stories, in a similar vein to the classic School Journals in NZ. The key message for the day was Telem no long drugs… so there were plenty of banners and posters about the dangers of dope, what hashish is etc… Following the march, hours of speeches and a particularly long prayer session, sports teams began…

Independence Week is the time when everything happens. From a place where it can be difficult to find things to do, it changes over independence where there are baby shows, motherhubbard competitions, displays, basically like a Vanuatu version of an A&P Show. At night stringbands and movies entertained the crowd while the men crowded around the multitude of kava bars set up for the punters.

During the day, most sporting disciplines had competitions for the week. It was my first opportunity to participate in women’s football, so Isabelle and I put in a team from Side Riva. I was also involved in netball (for Hybiscis) and handball…. so it resulted in some fairly hectic running between games, a strange cross between island time and games happening hurryup! Netball and handball weren’t so successful: however after a draw and loss in the football, Side Riva United managed to win all the following games, including a penalty shootout in the semifinals and a 1-0 win in the finals! A nice way to end the celebrations, particularly with the interested generated with the missis on the field.

Each day had a theme, but as part of celebrations this year, there has been a big focus on Kastom Ekonomi…. 2007 is the year of custom economy for Vanuatu. One of the announcements during our football game: “wan missis ia stap long field… bambae tomorrow, I gat wan whiteman backagain bae ia walkabout witem wan maomao”…. the following day was devoted to the kastom ekonomi, including a parade/march down the main street in kastom dress, which Jack was to take part in.

I was keen to see the kastom dress, so met Jack and his friend John on their way to the beginning of the march. When we got there, their mats were still at John’s house, so we went up to his house at Chapius area and somehow we all ended up donning kastom red mats from Pentecoste. After convincing the girls hanging round the house to come along too, we headed down and began our march with a group dominated by man Pentecost, on our way to Unity Park and in veritable speeches in the rain. Afta a couple of hours toktok, it was time for custom dancing! So I also got dragged up and danced Pentecost style, much to the amusement of the crowd…. Still, it was fun and a nice opportunity to get to know a few more of the Pentcost people in Luganville.

If it doesn't rain it pours!

Sori Tumas! Its been a while since the last blog entry, a reflection of both access to the internet and time to sit down and write.

The last few months have been a combination of plenty of visitors, new volunteers, work and the Vanuatu
Independence Celebrations.


Following the departure of Dave and Rene, my parents and sister Brenda arrived for a week in Santo. In comparison with more touristique visits, having told friends in Luganville that my family was coming, everyone insisted that my family come have laplap mo storian… resulting in an itinerary full of island style soso laplap (Malekula custom style), beach roasts (bbq) as well as a trip to Port Orly, Matavulu Blue Hole and a sunset cruise to Aore Island, and visits to church, Kamewa School and Sanma Provincial Council.

Then was the arrival of two new volunteers at the “fresh win” apartments. We now have a full contingent of kiwis (currently the kiwis seem to outnumber everyone else excluding babydocs in the younger expat scene). First is Robyn, from Melbourne although originally from Wellington, and working with Vanwoods. Vanwoods is a microfinance organization which has been running in Vila for a few years. Robyn is helping to set up and run the branch in Santo for 18 months as an Australian volunteer. Her arrival heralded the opening of Vanwoods complete with pre-requisite street parade and toktok long La Place (Unity Park). A friends mum asked me to take photos so I have a great day of taking pics and storianing with friends along the way.

The other new volunteer is Bridget, a mainlander who is working as a preschool teacher trainer. Both came at a good time, with heaps of stuff going on with independence celebrations, as well as meeting people and settling into island time.

The next visitors to arrive were Rach and Marvis, the niece and nephew of VSA volunteers in Vila. As it’s a bit hard to describe to people how to get to my house (you need to use a combo of descriptions “fresh win””house blong Peter James””House blong ol peacecorp””Closeup Santo East”, and you still aren’t guaranteed to get a taxi that knows where it is) I tried to make my way to the airport.

It had been raining “pig mo bullock” for four hours straight, a lot even by Vanuatu Standards. Attempts to get taxi’s were unsuccessful and finally I saw Dave Cross, a local resort manager, cruising round with a bunch of people trying to get to the airport. All roads to the airport were blocked due to flooding and the emergence of a waterfall at Rotary Park (where previously there was no stream at all, let along a torrent of water!). After trying a few other options (ie cruising around in the pouring rain on the back of a ute), to no avail, we joined the other rubber-neckers checking out the chaos at Rotary Park. Andrew was also around, attempting to pick up his granddad and sister…. Jack was also at the airport after a trip to Ambrym, so we managed to get him to round up the group of people at the airport, in anticipation of eventually being able to get through.

Eventually, a few people braved the torrent and removed some of the large coral boulders to provide a route for trucks to pass, and after 2 hours, with the rain starting to fall again, we managed to reach the airport, pick up everyone and get back into Luganville. Having sat on the back of trucks for a considerable time, and therefore soaking wet and cold, we headed home to change and then out for a classic peacecorp party at Kim’s house, with the overload of Baby Docs (about 40) and a chance for the visitors to see the full contingent of young people in Luganville… ah woo.

Friday, August 17, 2007

still alive

Sori tumas! It's been a while since I've blogged and there's definitely plenty of juicy tidbits to write about.

So just to let you know that I'm still alive and kicking in Santo. Its been busy with visitors, new volunteers, trip to Malekula, Independance Week, 7.2 Earthquakes, Flooding, Football, netball, handball, not to mention a number of things starting to happen on the work front. So there's some stories to come but it may take a while....

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Dave and Rene descend on Santo

The first visitors from NZ have finally made it! Dave and Rene arrived for 10 days of fun, frivolity and a taste of island life 'volunteer style'. After a relaxing first night, we headed out for a kava bar crawl: three different kava bars in Charpie, with Jack our resident kiwi guide. With mama's selling island kakae at the second kava bar, we had an opportunity to dine on Sambora, laplap, poulet fish and papaya... although the mud crabs may have been a little dodgy.
#tip number 1: avoid the seafood unless you're really sure of cooking methods
#tip number 2: don't kakae anything you can't peel or haven't washed yourself
Dave and Rene explored Luganville, Dave did the Millennium Cave tour, we went horse riding on a farm owned by a kiwi women, interspersed with a number of trips to Aore Island Resort for swimming, snorkling and lunch.
The Aore Swim was also on while they were here. I got he message that it was about to start 20mins beforehand, so raced down, managed to get on a small banana boat, and got to watch the 2.6km race closeup. Andrew was swimming, and came middle of the field, with the winner making it across in 27 minutes.
For the weekend before tufala go back long Neu Sialan (NZ), Rene and I played netball on Saturday afternoon (hot tumas!!!) and then we decided to go for a trip to Loru Protected Area, to sate Dave's bird-watching appetite, and then the classic trip to Champagne Beach and a Blue Hole. Arriving at Loru (only just though, as the wheel of our transport was sounding fairly dodgy), we met Chief Caleb and then headed out to the protected area with his son Calsekap. The walk included a variety of vegetation and apparently we saw a couple of the few endemic bird species of Vanuatu. We also saw a Namalao (megapode or incubator bird) which is a protected species here. Dave and Rene also got the opportunity to taste some classic island kakae when you go bush... including of course coconuts.
Then it was off to Champagne Beach for some swimming, relaxing, clown fish and kakae, then to Matevulou Blue Hole for the standard rinse before heading home for a final kava and kakae at our favourite chinease restaurant: Ocean King (I'll have the lemon chicken, and save room for deep fried ice cream... ummmmm).

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Updates: June

Jess with Desmond, baby Elvis and family, for a final laplap kakae.

The final deck party... is it a ship?!

The two misis and their masta...

The girls: Elizabeth, Jess, Isabelle, Sarah and Eva... nice tattoos!

An example of the piracy on offer...

Well, there’s been a few adventures of late, with the trip to Pentecost, my first Ni-Vanuatu wedding, interspersed with the usual soccer tournaments, kakae with friends and parties with the expats. So plenty of new stories for you to read : )

With Jess leaving there were plenty of farewell parties, most notably the sailors party the night before she left. It also allowed us to catch up with Ni-Vanuatu friends, sharing kakae, laplap and storianing.

It appears to be the season of Baby Doc’s, with up to 25 student doctors at one time descending on Luganville over the next couple of months. Not sure exactly how many will actually get into the hospital, but it is now accepted that this elective for them is more holiday than work experience.

Work is slowly picking up speed. Luganville appears to be a town on the cusp of substantial new developments, so there’s a number of interesting projects requiring Environmental Impact Assessments. So far, I’ve been making assessments for proposed marina’s, jetty’s, cultural centres and quarrying activities. With the international airport here looking to get more flights from Australia through AirVanuatu, rather than just Solomon Airlines, there seems to be a lot of potential for growth here.

The teaching at Kamewa is going well. I’m now doing individual reading with pikinini from year 5. As with any place there is a large range in ability. Generally, reading is done as a group. Unfortunately, because resources are so limited, the kids end up basically memorizing the stories so at the end of the year they are just about able to tell you the page number and story off by heart. Hopefully the individual reading time is helping.

The weather finally changed about a month ago now, so while the days are still fairly hot, there is no need for a fan at night. The change is also reflected in the market, where tomatoes and oranges are starting to come into season. You do know that you’ve acclimatized when the blue holes, at a temperature of 24 degrees Celcius, are considered cold.

The first visitors from New Zealand, Dave and Rene, are heading this way on Saturday. So it will be nice to spend some time showing them the sights and delights of Santo. The first adventure will be horse riding at a station south of Luganville on Sunday.

Lukem yu!

Where bungy jumping began: Land diving in Pentecost

A couple of months ago, Peter from the Maritime College had suggested that the College’s flagship, Euphrosyne II, could be used for a trip to Pentecost to see the land diving. As April and May passed with no word about a trip, I assumed that my chance to look at the land diving would come next year, since they restrict jumping to these months. However, a week ago the call came that the trip might be on, if 10 or more people could be convinced.

So finally with a group of fifteen, and after a few bevies at Beachfront Resort, we set off from the Maritime College wharf at 9.30pm on Friday night. We steamed out of Segond Channel, the lights of Luganville to Port, Aore Island to Starboard, and then hit the open water where the similarities to a washing machine began. A pity I didn’t bring some of that hand washing to do! Also a pity that I might have gone a bit overboard with the tuskers… so I retired to my mat on the floor, with a few quick dashes to make sure the fish were adequately fed.

We arrived at 6.30am to a mist cloaked Pentecost, and waited for a few hours while various small boats overflowing with pikinini and people from other villages cruised in, and small planes from Vila landed. The land diving tower was built behind Lonorore Airport, 5 minutes walk up a small hill.

The tower itself is built from wood and jungle vines, and as we arrived the jumpers were preparing their platforms and vines. Soon the smol boys and men in their nambas began their chanting and singing to encourage the divers at a cleared area above the tower. Soon they were joined by the smol girls and women, as the first of the divers stood to make their jump.

Seven men jumped in total, at various heights up the tower. There were the comedians, showmen and entertainers, with the tower set in the humid jungle of south Pentecost, overlooking coconut plantations and the ocean between Pentecost and Ambrym.

We returned to the boat after the diving, with a few of us swimming to the boat for our morning exercise. Then it was back to Santo, the trip being much more sedate as we traveled with the wind and waves. So for another 8 or so hours we spel smol, kakae smol, storian smol, lukluk ol islands (Ambae, Malekula, Malo) and eventually reached Segond Channel after dusk, with phosphorescence in our wake and flying fish beside us. Definitely the quickest (less than 24 hours) adventure in Vanuatu!

Cruise Ship Day

Cruise ship day is a phenomenon that really has to be scene to believed. At around 7am, a floating hotel docks at the main wharf and for the day, and over 1500 mainly white Australian tourists invade the streets of Luganville, returning to the ship to sail away to another destination…

On cruise ship day, the streets to the main wharf are lined with stalls selling souvenirs to the tourists… island dresses, grass skirts, shells etc. With a few coconut crab shirts to move before the new stock came in, we decided to hold a stall.

Despite being the expats least likely to drink kava in Luganville, Jess and I were somehow talked into selling a friend’s range of powdered instant kava (including raspberry and ginger flavoured kavas) to the fatfat Aussie tourists. So we became kava mamas for the day; kind of like island Smirnoff girls, but… not.

We assumed that kava’s reputation preceded it and it would sell itself, but we actually met with a lot more resistance than we were anticipating. Apparently P&O had issued a warning to all the passengers that kava was dangerous. Foul, yes; dangerous, no. So, as occasional drinkers we suddenly became staunch advocates determined to sing its praises.

We decided that our best bet was to target groups of young men (most of whom looked like they’d been drinking since the boat left Sydney). But even these guys were not interested to begin with, which just sent us into a ranty dialogue about the youth of today. Honestly, these were guys who would pride themselves on their recreational drug use and reckless disregard for drink driving laws, but were put off by a little warning about amoebic dysentery and liver damage (kava is actually far less damaging than alcohol).

Eventually we gave up any pretense of charm or flirtation – we simply mixed up sachets of the brew (we’d originally avoided this as the look and smell of kava is not its greatest selling feature!) and we hussled and berated people if they didn’t try it. The sales definitely picked up after that. People even came back for more! Greg also did his best to steer tourists our way, and a helpful Kiwi DJ from the cruise ship did his bit to give kava street cred with the ship’s wannabe R&B crowd.

Though I don’t really have any qualms about selling kava, the way that we had to push it made the whole thing feel like peddling smack to kiddies (which I assume is against the VSA Code of Conduct). Ugh. But we made quite a bit of money in the end, and John made a sizeable donation to the Coconut Crab project. And dealing for a good cause is OK, right? As long as you don’t get high on your own supply ; )

The littler paradise of Port Olry (and a first excursion with the Dive Boys)

So, with a truck full of supplies from the aborted Malekula trip, and schedules cleared for Friday, it was time for Plan B (once again). Andrew’s workmate, Rex, is from PNG but is married to a woman from Port Olry, and suggested that we come up for the weekend. The final of the Milk Cup, another Under 12 football tournament was being played that day, so the morning was spent setting up, then it was back up north for the weekend.

Port Olry is a village of approximately 1000 people, renown for fishing. Apparently, before independence, it had movie theatres and restaurants, I assume reflective of a strong French influence.

On arrival, we headed to Rex’s house to meet the family. Surrounded by tonnes of pikinini and some of the more rotund pigs I’ve seen, we storianed smol then headed to our accommodation in the village beside the beach. After settling into to our bungalow accommodation, we headed out with Rex to find a nakamal for some “welcome” kava before dinner at the newly opened restaurant: Le bouquet du Port Olry. The restaurant was very island style, ngatangora thatching, bamboo walls, with the added touch of Christmas lights and the latest larger than life coca-cola poster. As we finished our shells at the adjacent nakmal, a string band arrived and proceeded to serenade us with classic Vanuatu Songs: ‘island dress’, ‘pentecost girl’ etc. A sumptuous feast was then served, lots of local kakae and fish. We headed back to our bungalow in preparation for an early start the following day.

Rising with the sun, we all jumped in the boat to go for a wee tour around some of the islands, before Andrew spent the rest of the morning fishing. We cruised around Dolphin Island, on the lookout for turtles. The water was classic turquoise blue, with plenty of sandy beaches. As we came back into the beach at Port Orly, we finally spotted a large turtle, so Jess and I jumped into the water, in our clothes, in an attempt to get a closer look. While Andrew spent the next 4-5 hours fishing, we played cricket with the pikinini, storianed with some mama’s, roasted some yams and generally relaxed. Early in the afternoon Andrew finally arrived back with some rather warm fish in the bottom of the tinny. We roasted and ate one, leaving the rest for the locals, then packed up and made our way to Lonoc to catch up with the Dive Boys and their band of merry Baby Docs.

That evening and the following day was interspersed with a party, beach fire, swimming and general shenanigans. Had a quick trip over to Champagne Beach for more swimming and then back home with a quick kava at ‘turtle’, the general haunt of aquamarine and the baby doc entourage followed by a market kakae.

Sara Wedding

Sera, wan misis wearem wan island dress! Mo wan bigfala laplap

tufala papa blong danis

Having been back to NZ for a couple of weddings, my turn to experience the Vanuatu version finally dawned. A friend of mine, Marie-Michelle (whom I met on the Sarafenua going to Pentecost) was going to a wedding in a village called Sara, and wondered if I’ld like to accompany her.

Since it was a special occasion and all, we decided to get some island dresses made for the day… luckily in a Tahitian style which is a little less flouncy than the Vanuatu ‘motherhubbard’ dresses. So with an early morning wakeup, we headed up to Sara.

In classic Vanuatu fashion, there was plenty of ‘spel smol’. We arrived to rain and found shelter in the porch of a house. The church ceremony was due to start at 10am, but at the designated time, the bride, groom and wedding parties were still milling around in their general daywear. With a fair amount of rushing around, eventually the wedding parties emerged.

While there are some similarities with the generic western ‘white wedding’ there is plenty of island style:
- Island dresses and shirts for Africa: The families of the bride and groom each have a uniform, consisting of island dresses and island shirts in the same material. This not only adds colour to the day, but allows all the extended family to be involved.
- Cutting the cake straight after the wedding. The tradition of the cake as a dessert hasn’t quite reached Vanuatu wedding planners
- playplay blong man Ambae mo man Pentecost. Throughout the day you’re lible to get a dollop of baby powder or glitter from your favourite mama
- Doing the ‘island shuffle’ to Zouk music (it must just be the preferred music for weddings here?!)

Following the presentation of gifts from ol man Pentecost, the wedding feast was presented: massive laplaps prepared for different groups by different families in Sara Village. Each laplap is given to certain groups: uncles of the couple, mama’s, papa’s etc. I ended up at the mama’s laplap (being of an age where I should have had at least 4 pikinini by now) so sat down to a feast of yam laplap witem pork mo island cabbage.

Then it was time for wan smol dance before mifala ko bak long Luganville. By this stage all the mama’s were drinking cordial and home brewed whisky and having a great time dancing in a mass of colour, “whoop whoops!”, singing and laughing, so we had to join in with them. By this stage both the bride and groom were very inebriated, and were eventually helped home by a gaggle of mamas. Also joining in were three old fula’s who had by the looks of it been drinking (and dancing) all day. Was great to finally see plenty of mama’s dancing and a nice way to end the day.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Lukem yu Jess!!

With Jess's departure from Santo, I asked her to do a guest blog. Jess had her own stories to friends: the 'survivor episodes'... highly entertaining so I thought you'ld enjoy a round up from her : )

Sarah asked me to write a blog signing off on my time in Vanuatu, so I’m currently sitting in the netherworld of Port Vila and trying to be reflective. It’s harder than I expected. Mainly, that’s because the past year has been a chaotic range of experiences, emotions and observations. Everything defies accurate description and I feel like I am doing the experience a disservice to try.

How can I explain the food, staggering in its volume, blandness and lack of nutritional value, and still get you to appreciate the joy of a mama meal (cheap, hearty, MSG-loaded fare) or my addiction to yam and breakfast crackers?

I could tell you that I love walking down the main street and constantly shaking hands and storianing with people, mamas in bright island dresses and old men who are just as likely to be wearing a loin cloth as a second-hand T-shirt advertising a random plumbing business in central Australia. But it wouldn’t be an accurate picture if I left out the annoyance of groups of ni-Van boys calling out witty things like “Hey, Missus, I love you”.

The year has also been punctuated with frustrations; Big ones like the pervasive apathy at work, the tolerance of incompetence and misappropriation, and the tendency to both unquestioningly rely on, and frequently try to extort, white people; and small ones like constantly smelling like a gym towel, being weighed in at the airport, hearing how silly you sound speaking Bislama and having to strike 20 crappy Chinese matches before you can get one to light.

However, in spite of all of that, the balance for the year is tipped in favour of the good memories. The laughter, the sunset from the balcony, warmth of good people and strength of good friendships and having a soccer tournament in my honour definitely edge out the negative stuff.

In that spirit, I’ve compiled a list of highlights, things that I will miss, and some “lessons learned” (in preparation for the wanky Australian Youth Ambassador debrief…). It’s a testament to the good times that have been had that it was extremely difficult to narrow down the lists to a Top 5!

The Feehely Momorial Futbol Tournament
Spending a week in a village in north Ambrym to begin the adventure, learn some Bislama and get a taste for root vegetables and string band music
Easter weekend at Lonnoc – good food, good weather, great company: good times.
Gaua Arts Festival
Deck parties – cricket, drunken sailors, vile alcoholic concoctions and dancin’, sweet dancin’: all the best parties in Luganville happened on one of our decks.
[Runners-up: my first reef dive, underwater birthday cake, making island Christmas stockings, night swimming at Palakula and crashing a wedding and dancing to the same five Zouk songs for hours]

Things I will miss
The three Missus – Sarah, Jen, Andrew, and just generally being part of such a solid team
Riding in the back of the ute – this is, often quite literally, the only way to travel
The view of the East Coast as you round the corner at Sarunda
Earthquakes – the frequent gentle, or sometimes not so gentle, rumbles of the earth still give me a little rush every time
The little clicky finger pull ni-Vans do when they think something is funny (which is often)

Things I’ve learned:
A village that doesn’t have toilet paper, water, road access or a public phone within 2km will probably still have a generator, DVD player and a copy of “Rambo”.
If you stare at a group of geckoes on the ceiling for long enough, one of them is bound to fall off.
Regardless of the arrangement, people will arrive when (or if) they feel like it. Same goes for boats…
It’s OK, NOONE looks sexy in a wetsuit.
Good people make all the difference. Sarah is (in keeping with the uber-Australian persona I have unwittingly adopted here) a top sheila. Her levity, support and chocolate cake have helped to make this whole experience worthwhile.
So, on reflection, my sage advice for surviving a stint on a tropical island is to learn to laugh about things and enjoy the good stuff, take sweet chilli sauce and only buy Three Diamond matches. And take Sarah with you!