Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Next in the Who’s Who of Quatamwele, we have my father Hugh: a quirky, smiling, inquisitive man whose everyday movements around the village can only be described as puttering. His favorite activities include listening to the radio (Vanuatu only has one station so no one ever argues about which station to turn it to), telling stories, and fussing over me. He’s constantly bringing me overwhelming amounts of food, tweaking things in my house to make them “better”, and asking me if I need to lie down. Despite his short stature and thinning gray hair he is remarkably strong and one of the hardest workers in the village. He doesn’t back down from any community work and takes pride in making sure things are done well. Although he never attended school and cannot read or write, he picks things up very quickly and is so earnest about learning the “right” way to do things.

Dadi Hugh takes his role as my father very seriously and does his best to teach me everything he can about our island. Most of his information about different trees, nuts, and fruits are very useful and appreciated, but I have to try hard not to laugh when he says things like: “That’s a cow” or as a crab scuttles across our path: “One crab.” He also has the habit of randomly starting conversations in the middle, and what I first thought was a language barrier turns out to be me simply trying to catch up with his train of thought. For example, he might break a long silence by saying something like: “But they all went somewhere else because they were carrying something to go down.” He has too many accidentally hilarious stories and strange comments to document them all, but I cannot help but relay a couple gems here:

My first trek away from the village, we were visiting at another house when my dad leans over and whispers to me that if I need to use the toilet I can just ask him to show me where it is. He then said (translated into English for your reading pleasure), “You don’t need to be ashamed to ask where the bathroom is. Some people don’t want to talk about it. But what’s the big deal? You go to the toilet, I go to the toilet, everybody goes to the toilet! There’s no shame in it.”

Another time we were discussing handing out condoms in the village to cut down on teenage pregnancy and STD’s, and my father was adamantly for the idea. He said if he had known about condoms when he was younger he definitely wouldn’t have as many kids as he does. He then told me: “I tell all the boys (and the girls too) they should carry condoms around in their pocket all the time. They’re not heavy or anything! They can just sit in your pocket so you’re always ready. I know you ‘white men’ only do it indoors, but we ‘black men’ do it all about. Sometimes you go to the garden and see someone you like. You start talking and. . .there you go. You want to do it. It’s good if you have a condom in your pocket.” I think my eyes were watering at the effort to keep from laughing, but he was so sincere and serious about his idea that I could only nod and tell him he was very smart.

Although sometimes I find his overbearing attention irksome and I am tempted to rebel against it, I am truly lucky to have such warm, loving, joyful man looking after me.

I also have to take a minute to give a shout out to Elise. She’s been posting these for me since my limited internet connectivity in Lolowai allows me to email but for some reason doesn’t let me post to my blog. So thanks love for taking the time to make sure everyone stays updated and for being such an amazing friend!

A Rao-Rao Christmas

In some countries Christmas is just another day, in others kids wake up early to see what Santa has brought them, but in Vanuatu people celebrate by getting ridiculously drunk, singing, dancing, and fighting. Not exactly what I was expecting. . .

Nancy came up to my village on Christmas Eve to celebrate with all of us in Quatamwele. Her village is Seventh Day Adventist so they don’t observe the holiday. Nancy and I spent the night before Christmas drinking bottles of red wine, giggling over silly inside jokes, and watching Love Actually on my computer. Christmas morning came very early and found the two of us extremely hung over and not feeling very festive. But despite our pounding heads and churning stomachs we went up to my parents’ house to share a breakfast of white rice and boiled cabbage. After we ate, we all headed to the neighboring village of Vuiberugu for a Christmas church service and a goodbye ceremony for our area’s priest who has been re-assigned. The church service was beautiful, and we all gathered after to drink juice and eat bread.

But the real action didn’t happen until about an hour later as we were all waiting for the goodbye program to start. The “boys” of Vuiberugu were already very drunk at about 8:00 in the morning and one of them started to make a scene (“boys” in this country refers to any male between the ages of about 15 to 30). He could barely walk and stumbled around the community field singing and shouting obscenities. Soon we started to see other drunken boys making their way to the gathering. At first they were simply making noise but then they started to get violent. Exchanging of aggressive words quickly turned into a full on beating up of one of the boys. The community leaders tried to break it up, but the rest of the program was plagued by these silly males coming in and out and threatening to disturb the peace. It was quite scary to have these vicious, uncontrollable guys running wild throughout the village. They seemed so unpredictable and I had no idea what they would do. When we finally left to go back home, I told my dad I had been scared. He said, “I know, but I was watching you two (Nancy and me) and if anyone had come near you I would have sent them to the hospital. Your dad may be old, but he’s still strong!” Good thing I have Dadi Hugh looking out for me :)

We arrived back at our village and got ready to eat our big celebratory meal. Accompanying the lap-lap and freshly killed pig, my family and I drank a jug of what I can only compare to Carlo Rossi wine. I’m not exactly sure what it consists of, but it doesn’t claim to be true wine. Instead the label refers to it as a “wine-based beverage” and truthfully admits to it being “produced with fish and milk products”. Interesting. But it did the trick and had everyone feeling very jovial. After eating we went to join other people from the village at a party at my brother’s house. There (not surprisingly), all the boys from Quatamwele were completely drunk. But although I’m sure their blood alcohol content rivaled that of the boys in Vuiberugu, our boys were happy drunks; choosing to sing, dance, and hug each other a lot over physical violence. It was hilarious to see my goofy dad drink beer after beer and my shy, quiet mom down mixed drinks. Nancy and I decided to abstain, not just because of our lingering hangovers, but also because of the drink options: warm bottled beer, cheap whiskey mixed with sugar water, a horrible malt beverage (also warm), or a homemade drink consisting of yeast, sugar, and coconut milk. No thank you. Instead we took ourselves out of the craziness early and retreated to my house before things could degenerate any further.

There is no effective way to sum up my Christmas experience. I can only say it was sweltering hot, scary, hilarious, and like nothing I’d ever experienced before. It was a long way from sitting in front of a cozy fire in Spokane, watching the snow fall gently, and sipping a nice red wine chosen specifically to complement the Christmas goose. But now I have yet another unique memory to add to my experience

I will be spending the New Year in East Ambae. About 12 Peace Corps volunteers from at least 4 different islands will be coming together to celebrate. Will there be fish product “wine” there? A girl can only hope. . .

Monday, December 13, 2010


I have decided it would be impossible to give an adequate description of all the wonderful people in my life here in just one post, so I have decided to do a series of profiles. To start, I want to introduce you all to my sister, Yvette.

First though, a note on names since I bet some of you are confused to encounter a “Yvette” on a small island in the Pacific. Really, there is no rhyme or reason to the names here. Some are classic Christian names (Patrick, Mary, Andrew), some are traditional Ambaen names (Mwerta, Tari, Garae), there are a few old-school Victorian names (Evelyn, Crimson), and then there are the random names that seem to come from nowhere (Hugh, Yvette, Ivanna, Anita). There is no way to explain where the practice of naming seems to come from, so instead you must accept it as yet another peculiarity of my strange new home.

Yvette was my first friend here and has been my saving grace in the month I have lived in Quatamwele. From the day I arrived – feeling overwhelmed, shy, exhausted, and in way over my head – she has taken me under her wing. Somehow she has a sixth sense about my moods and feelings and is amazingly adept at showing up at exactly the right time with just what I need. A day when I’m feeling lethargic and useless Yvette will come to my door and ask me to go to the garden with her. When I have nothing to say but need to be around people Yvette will call me down to her kitchen and talk and talk while I sit and listen. When all the praise and stories about the former volunteer start to annoy me a little, Yvette will jump in and highlight some of the differences between us and talk about how lucky the village is to have me now. All without me saying a word.

My sister has a great sense of humor, a mischievous crooked smile, and an energetic sparkle to her eyes. Although she spends all her days corralling her five children, cooking for her husband, doing the wash, and also managing the village’s handcraft group, her enthusiasm and liveliness never flag. She loves to play volleyball (although she complains she was much better before kids made her “fat-fat”), go to the garden, and tease her husband (the only one who can get away with poking fun at the chief and chairman of the village). She and I work together closely in regards to the handcraft group and I am consistently amazed at how quickly she picks things up and how well she manages people with a mix of affectionate humor and firm guidelines. She has no idea how talented she is and continues to lack confidence in her abilities to manage money, but I hope soon she will realize what a great asset she is to the community. I cannot imagine how dreary life would be here without her, and she says as the only girl with six brothers she’s ecstatic to finally have a sister.

An American Holiday Comes to the Pacific

Thanksgiving 2010 was one I will not soon forget. It was my first Thanksgiving away from my home and family, my first Thanksgiving without a turkey, strangely NOT my first Thanksgiving meal cooked over a fire, but the first where I actually did some of the cooking. Although it lacked the cold winter weather, the good china, and the pumpkin pie that anchor the classic American holiday, it was a fantastic day that will stay in my memory as one of the best Thanksgivings I’ve had.

On Wednesday, Megan came from Lolowai, Kara from Luvunvili, and Melissa from Vureas (all in East Ambae), and together with Nancy made the trek up my hill to see Quatamwele. My village gets ridiculously excited when we get visitors, so they planned a whole welcome ceremony for the girls filled with classic rambling Ni-Van speeches and way too much food. We left soon after in order to get down to Nancy’s village of Vandue before dark. That night we laughed and talked and broke open one of the cherished bottles of wine the girls had foraged from the few sparse stores in Lolowai.

Thanksgiving dawned cloudy and rainy and in good holiday fashion we lazed around the house all morning, until the food preparations began. We carried spices, pots and pans, various ingredients, and all the necessities over to Nancy’s kitchen and started the fire. Over the next few hours we slaved over a hot fire and were rewarded with a home-made feast of curry pumpkin soup, beans with island cabbage (similar to spinach), mashed kumala (sweet potatoes), bread (not an easy task when you don’t have yeast or an oven. But doable!), two chickens, gravy, yams fried with onions, mac and cheese (not a Thanksgiving classic but just so American that it made the cut), and a banana cake for dessert. It was a challenge, but we had a blast and celebrated by eating a feast, drinking wine, and lying around like true Americans on Thanksgiving.

The next day Nancy and I followed the boat with the girls back to Lolowai to use some internet and eat something other than our usual diet of simboro and lap-lap (more on the food here in a later post). Although the weather looked ominous, we only get a chance for a cheap boat ride once every two weeks, so we decided to go for it. Small amounts of rain came down on the two-hour boat ride to Lolowai, but nothing too dramatic. However, on the way back the skies opened up and buckets of rain fell on us. The ocean became very rough and waves crashed into the boat soaking us to the skin. The weather continued to get worse until we were in the middle of strong winds, crashing thunder, and the kind of rain I had never seen before. I later learned a hurricane was in the area and that we were catching the fringes of the wild weather. At this point my biggest concern was for the infant that was in the boat, coming back from being immunized at the hospital. The only place that has vaccines is the hospital in Lolowai, and the only way to get there is by boat, so the mother didn’t have any choice. Everyone was trying to shield him from the rain and the waves as much as possible, but I was terrified the boat was going to flip and send us all into the ocean. The men in the boat told me that in times of heavy rains the road up to my village turns into a river and is impassable, so I continued on to Vandue to stay the night with Nancy. After getting the baby out of the boat safely, jumping onto the shore amidst crashing waves, and helping to pull the boat up a hill and out of the ocean’s reach, Nancy and I finally slogged back to her house. By this time we were so wet we might have well have jumped in the ocean, and the rain was providing better water pressure than we’d seen in months, so we decided to wash our hair outside in the rain. Then we changed into warm clothes and huddled under blankets, drinking hot chocolate and watching a movie on my laptop. The next day the rains subsided a little and I could finally go back up the hill to assure my worried parents I had not gotten swept out to sea.

Like I said, a Thanksgiving I will never forget!

Friday, November 5, 2010

I'm Official

I have been sworn in and am no longer a Peace Corps Trainee. I am now officially a Peace Corps Volunteer! Whoo hoo!

We had a very beautiful ceremony (although long and hot as every function in this country is), where we took the Peace Corps oath to uphold and defend the U.S. constitution and were accepted by the Vanuatu government. All of our host families from the villages came and it was great to see them smiling and cheering for us in the audience. They are all so proud :) Afterward we went to a bar and had a great little post-party. Nancy, Danielle and I had organized some "Most Likely To. . ." that the group voted on and we had some pretty funny ones including: Most Likely to Become Chief, Most Likely to Burn Down a Kastom House, Most Likely to Chase Off a Creeper, Most Likely to Get Bitten by a Mosquito, and some more. It was a great night of laughing, drinking beer, and dancing. Quite an "American" night :)

I have a new address and have updated it on the side of my blog, but here it is again:

MaryCatherine Bradley
Peace Corps Volunteer
P.O. Box 60
Quatamele Women's Group
North Ambae Island
Republic of Vanuatu

If anything is in transit and ends up going to the Peace Corps office, they will forward it on to me, so no worries there.

I am out to my island on Monday morning and won't be back into Vila until Phase II training which will be in mid-February, so this is probably my last post for a while! Letters will definitely be the best way to get ahold of me.

Wish me luck as I venture off into the jungle of North Ambae!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Job Description

Here are some details about what I will be doing in North Ambae for the next two years. If nerdy things like accounting and financial management bore you then this might not be the post for you. Scroll down to find more interesting stories :)

My official title is Business and Community Development Advisor, and I am assigned to the North Ambae Women's Group (NAWG). The women in Quatamwele and surrounding villages have come together to sell woven mats, baskets, folders, and other beautiful products with the help of a former volunteer. But the volunteer who originally helped the women was not a business volunteer, so now they want someone to come and help them straighten out the business aspect of their organizion. I will be advising them on basic book-keeping, financial management, marketing techniques, and providing support for new product development. I'm really lucky to be walking into a group that is so well organized and motivated and the former volunteer did a great job of setting up the program. I'm really excited because it seems like the current needs of NAWG pretty much fit my strenghts and I think this could be a really productive assignment.

With a couple exceptions, business volunteers this year have either been sent to work with branches of National Bank of Vanuatu or with the provincial government, so their assignments are a little more structured than mine, but I really believe in this project and I feel really blessed to be able to go with it. Here is a small excerpt from my job description from the Peace Corps:

"Globally women contribute greatly to poverty reduction, economic growth and private sector development. Peace Corps believes empowering women leads to increased social well-being. Women in Vanuatu are crucial contributors to society and are perceived to hold the family and communities together."

Pretty exciting stuff! I will be getting to work with the mamas one on one to enhance their personal finance capabilities and also with the group as a whole. I have met some of the women in the group and they are really wonderful people. I'm looking forward to learning more about local products and also about women's special role in Vanuatu society. Not to mention all the beautiful island dresses I'm sure I'll be wearing at my site :)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Drumroll please. . .

Our site announcements have been made, and I am going to. . . Quatamwele, Ambae! Now I realize for most of you that means absolutely nothing, so this post is to provide some information about my future home.

I am one of the few lucky volunteers who actually got to visit their site when we went on our Host Volunteer Visit (my program manager told me she had to send me there to make sure I "could hack it") so I have actually seen my new house, met my new "family", and had a tour of my new village. I had suspected for a while that I would end up going there, but no one would give me any confirmation, so I was excited to learn for sure where I will be spending the next two years. Quatamwele is a tiny village of about 80 people in a very remote area of North Ambae. To get there you take a flight from Vila to Logana, Ambae, then take a truck to the port in Lolowai, then take about a 2 hour boat ride to Walurigi, then hike straight uphill for about an hour to get to Quatamwele. There are no trucks on my side of the island (and no vehicle could make it up the hill anyway) and I will be working with a lot of other villages in my area, so my site involves a lot of hiking. It is an absolutely beautiful village, deep in the jungle and nesled right into the hillside fairly close to an active volcano. I have been used to houses in Efate that are made out of scrap metal or concrete blocks, but in Quatamwele the houses are almost exclusively made out of local materials. My house has bamboo walls, a roof of woven leaves, and a dirt floor. I also have a "kastom kitchen" which is a separate little house to make the cooking fire in, a "small house" which is a hole in the ground that serves as a toilet, and a "swim house" where I will be taking my bucket showers. The community uses rain water for drinking and water from springs for bathing and washing. There are no generators in the village, so no electricity is to be had. It is very, very isolated. There is one "store" at the bottom of the hill that sells some basics, but anything you want to bring to your house you have to lug it up the giant hill. I'm not sure exactly how I will get all my things up there but my current plan is to enlist the help of some village kids.

The people of my village are incredible. They are welcoming, motivated, and so excited to be getting a new volunteer. There is a very strong chief who has great control of the village and things definitely get done there. They are organized and energetic about improving the village and their enthusiasm is so exciting to me. When I went to visit they had a welcome ceremony for me and presented me with a gift of a necklace carved out of a natangurra seed in the shape of a pig's tusk. When I came back from my visit all the Ni-Vanuatu trainers were amazed at the gift and told me it was a very big deal as pigs are huge in the culture here and the tusks are a sign of power and wealth. I felt an amazing connection with the people and I left my visit with a strong feeling that this site I where I am supposed to go.

There is a great group of volunteers going to Ambae and one of my good friends here, Nancy, will be my closest neighbor (about a 1 and 1/2 hour walk over some pretty rough terain). Part of me is a little nervous to be going to such a remote placement, but mainly I'm excited and energized for the challenge. This will be so far from anything I have ever experienced and it's amazing to be given a chance like this. I probably won't be very easy to contact but I'll do my best to provide updates along the way!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Leaving Takara

The first part of PST (Pre-Service Training) is over and on Sunday morning we left our training villages to come to Vila. In some ways I cannot believe 7 weeks have already gone by, and in others it feels like Takara has always been my home. Although I have only known these people for a short time, saying goodbye and moving on was incredibly emotional. I had such a wonderful experience in Takara and was blessed with such a welcoming and loving family, and I found I was not quite ready to leave. I felt like I was leaving yet another home and another family. It's hard to think I will no longer be cooking and going to the garden with my Mama, getting history lessons from my Papa, weaving mats with my sister, listening to my brother play the guitar, and swimming in the ocean with my cousins.

In true Vanuatu fashion we spent the last night eating copious amounts of food, telling stories, and making small speeches. My Mama made a very sweet speech and started crying when she talked about me leaving. The last month or so, she has been campaigning to have me placed on Efate so I would be close by, and she has even been searching the job adds in the newspaper for a business position for me in Vila (even though I tried to explain to her that Peace Corps doesn't exactly work that way!). When I came back from visiting a volunteer on Ambae with some infected bug bites she was convinced that was a perfectly good reason for me to just stay "home." What she said was, "Sapos yu ko lo Ambae, bae hemi spoilem Lelei blong me!" which roughly translated means, "If you go to Ambae, it will spoil my Lelei!" But I have promised to visit every time I come back to Vila and given her my phone number so she can periodically check in, and I think she's satisfied with that. My Papa's speech (to the entire village) involved a wonderfully embarrassing little story about the one night that something I ate didn't agree with me, and he updated everyone on my gastrointestinal problems and my several trips to the toilet. The other volunteers thought it was hilarious, and Robert told me I really have a true family here: a mother who fusses and cries and a father who tells embarrassing stories. I will miss belonging to such a loving family.

We are back in Vila now for one last week of training, and then we will be off to our new homes for the next two years. I will post soon with details of my site. Exciting news!!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wish List

Ok, Blogger is acting up so here is my wish list!

Silica Packs (for keeping electronics dry)
American candy (not chocolate - it will melt)
Sharpies/permanent markers
Cotton t-shirts
Lightweight cotton skirts (anything below the knee is appropriate)
Sturdy flip-flops or sandals
Protein bars
Guilty pleasure magazines (i.e. People, Glamour, etc.)
Any news publication
Bandanas/hair scarves
Colored Pencils
Photos/picture frames


I have settled into my training village of Takara and have now been living here for almost three weeks. Takara is a very small village of only 200 or so people (I think half of which are children) right on the coast of the northernmost part of the main island (Efate). It is in a beautiful location pushed right up against the beach with a view of several islands close by. Most of the islands here were formed by volcanoes, so almost every one is a fairly steep mountain (in Bislama the word for “inland” and “uphill” are the same) which makes for very dramatic scenery as you can see tree-covered peaks rising out of the sea. Although it has been hot here every day (and we are only just now entering the hot season), my village is well shaded and a constant cooling breeze comes up from the ocean making the heat bearable. Also, the weather here can change dramatically in one day. Saturday for example, it was sunny and hot in the morning, there was an earthquake in the middle of the day (around a 5.0) followed by dark clouds and a downpour of rain, and the afternoon was sunny and hot again.

Takara is a bustling little village filled with the smell of cooking fires, the sounds of neighbors shouting hellos, and the sight of chicken, pigs, and kids running free among the houses. I have a fabulous host family that has made me feel so welcome and comfortable. “Papa” is the pastor of the Presbyterian church here, and he is a wonderful person who is patient with my language learning, loves to tell me about the U.S. troops here in WWII, and tells corny jokes and laughs and laughs at them. “Mama” always knows what’s going on in the village and gives me updates on everything while we drink tea or cook. She is very sharp and nothing gets past her. She also loves to mother me and gets concerned if I don’t eat enough or if she thinks I’m going to be late to class. Although all their kids are grown and living in various places, the house has a constant stream of people coming in and out and they are all introduced as my sister, brother, uncle, or even my child. I have learned that these sort of relationship titles are used very loosely here. Regardless of who is actually “related” to me, the entire village has completely taken me in and already treats me like family. My mama and papa have given me a new name – Lelei – which means something along the lines of “my girl” or “darling” in their native tongue and every morning on my way to class every person I see says, “Gud moning Lelei!” In Vanuatu, even if you don’t know someone that you pass by on the road you wave and say hello and sometimes even get in an extensive conversation with them. It is not uncommon for someone passing by to ask you how you are, where you are going, what you are going to do when you get there, and when you’re coming back. This sort of curiosity takes a little getting used to, but you definitely feel safe! Someone always knows exactly where you are. Being one of only four white people in the village (which is rare as some of the training villages have up to 12 volunteers) every move I make, action I take, or food I eat is big village news and spreads like wildfire. It is not uncommon for someone to randomly give me a banana or anything cooked with banana or anything that at one time touched a banana since it is already well known that I’m a big lover of bananas.

Although at times this experience has been daunting and frustrating, for the most part I am getting along really well. I’m making progress in the language and can actually hold a conversation now. I’ve also learned lot of the traditional activities of women in the village, including weaving a mat, cooking several traditional dishes (over a fire!), washing my clothes by hand, and killing and roasting a chicken. Ok, I didn’t actually do the killing but I was a bystander and then had to pluck the thing. Not my favorite, especially when we had a false pronouncement of death followed by a bound chicken flapping around the yard trying to escape its eminent demise. I think I will stick to weaving mats. I have been in very good health and my only complaint is the fact that apparently I’m irresistible to the mosquitos here (last count I had over 55 bites on my body at one time despite sleeping under a mosquito net and practically bathing in insect spray).

Now a little information about what will be happening next. In about a week I will be going out to one of the other islands to visit a volunteer for a few days. This is so we can see what village life is like away from the main island and to get a better idea of what volunteers actually do on a daily basis. After that I will come back to Takara for one week and then go to Vila (the capital city). In Vila we will be given our site assignments and have our swearing in as official Peace Corps volunteers. We will be in Vila for a week going through last minute training and buying all the things necessary for living at our site. They have still given us absolutely no indication of where our sites may be, so unfortunately I have no new info on that question. Some people have asked what might be some good things to send in care packages, so I’ve put up a wish list on the right side of my blog. Please keep in mind that what I really want most of all is communication, so I would be overjoyed with something as simple as a letter or postcard. If you are so inclined as to send me a package, try to keep the value under $100 as we are charged a hefty fee for inspection of anything with a greater value. Also, all packages with meat products or seed products will be inspected, so maybe stay away from that too. Thanks for all your love and support!

Monday, September 13, 2010

My first from Vanuatu

Well, I’m back in the “city” for interviews with the Country Director, and the medical staff, so I’m taking advantage of the internet available in the Peace Corps office. I made it to Vanuatu and we’re currently living a few miles outside Port Vila for our first week of training, and have been bombarded with information. Unfortunately we’ve been learning a lot more about what could go wrong than language and culture training, but I’ve been assured we will get there. We’ve spent lots of time in health class learning about the possibility of malaria, dengue fever, worms, giant poisonous centipedes, scabies and lice, coral cuts and infections, etc. etc., and we are having a 2 hour session just on diarrhea tomorrow. . . before lunch (E, I guess you should have given me that book ☺ ) . But although my head is reeling, I am having the most amazing time.

Last night we had dinner at the Country Director’s house, and our first Kava experience! His house is beautiful and looks right out on the water, and he and his wife were so welcoming and wonderful (note to anyone who will understand this: the Country Director reminds me so much of Doug Banks! It makes me feel at home and hope later we’ll be throwing spaghetti on the ceiling ☺ ). I was, however, slightly disappointed with the Kava. Despite all the buildup, really all it did was make me kinda tired. But the strange thing about Kava is apparently it works the opposite of alcohol: instead of building up a resistance, it affects you more intensely the more you drink it. And, it takes smaller people MORE kava to feel anything. So maybe I’ll give it another try.

We will be staying in this village until Friday, and then we’ll be split up into “training villages” where we’ll spend the next six weeks. We have a huge group of 40 volunteers, but only about 10 or so will be in each village. I have a really awesome group and am looking forward to getting there. Right now we’re sleeping in tiny houses with 9 other people, living out of our bags, and I can’t wait to get my own room, unpack, and start to feel settled in. We do have the luxury of running water here, but the showers are cold (very very cold!) and this site has a generator, so we have a few hours of electricity every night (although I think there are about 2 outlets in the whole compound, so charging things can be tricky). We don’t have any information on how our training villages will be, but I’m assuming this is pretty high living as far as Vanuatu is concerned. We were issued a bucket for showers and a solar powered lantern, so I have a feeling rougher living is to come. Despite this, I am so happy here. The weather is perfect for me, and even though it’s been pouring rain today, the temperature is still around 80 degrees. The people are amazingly friendly, the water is the kind of blue they don’t even have in a Crayola box, and the natural lush beauty is breathtaking. There are lots of little critters here, but we’re told only the centipedes are poisonous, which makes it easier to appreciate the cute little geckos and brightly colored (giant!) cockroach‐type bugs.

I can’t wait to get to my village, meet my host family (I can’t wait to have a “mama” although I know she’ll be a poor substitute for my mama), and start practicing the language. We’ll be back in town around the end of the first week in October, so hopefully I’ll be able to update on all the new happenings. The only thing that could make this better is if all the people I loved were with me.

I’m off to roam the town looking for things I’ve been told I need to buy. Including a machete. Which should be interesting considering I’m afraid of my Swiss Army Knife. Can any of you imagine me hacking
my way through the jungle? Apparently that’s a likely possibility. Pray I don’t cut off a finger. Ta‐ta! (Bislama for bye)

A quick note about communication: I have a phone! It’s fairly expensive for me to call and text the United States, however, it doesn’t cost me anything to receive texts and phone calls ☺ . I’m told that Google Voice is an excellent way to call internationally and I think the rates should be pretty reasonable. Just thought you should all know that. My number is 011‐678‐5690395. I think the training village will have reception, so for the next six weeks I’ll be available, but I’ll have to wait for site assignments to give you any information after that.

Friday, September 10, 2010

We're off!

I only have a few minutes to catch up on this blog thing, but wanted to give a quick update about my time here in L.A. What an amazing group of people I am lucky enough to be setting out on this assignment with. I have only touched on getting to know them, but everyone is so great, with amazing stories and experiences. The best part about today has been all the unconditional support that comes along with being in the same boat (canoe?) together. Everyone has the same anxieties and can completely sympathize with all the thoughts racing through my head.

I have been inundated with new information and I have to admit I probably forgot it all again. Our next step is to get on the plane to New Zealand, arriving after a 13 hour flight, and then jumping the puddle really quick on a 3 hour flight to Vanuatu. Once we arrive (9:30 am local time on Sunday, Sept 12) we will immediately begin our training. No time for jet lag here! I'm not sure what the coffee situation will be, but I'm sure I'll still be running on excitement.

I will probably be without internet for at least the first three months, so snail mail will be key! I will try to update this thing as soon as possible. See you all on the other side of the equator!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Goodbye Northwest

Well, the goodbye parties are over, the tearful goodbyes are (mostly) over, and all that's left is to make sure my bags contain everything I'll need for the next two years. I am so incredibly lucky to have such amazing friends and family and such a great boyfriend to send me off in style. I wish I had appreciated it more, but seeing all the love and good wishes made me realize what an amazing group of people I know. So thank you Seattle for sending me off with beers, hotdogs, and hugs, and thank you Spokane for sending me off with a bonfire, science experiments, and sloppy kisses from the kids.
I am off to LA for a day of orientation and then will be headed for the island country of Vanuatu (technically it's an archipelago, but only Shellooe can pronounce that word correctly). I'll be on the island that contains the capital city for three months and then will be given an assignment and sent into the jungle for two more years. I have no idea what the internet/electricity situation will be but I will be trying to stay in touch and post on this blog as much as I can. I love you all so much and although two years without y'all seems very daunting, I'm sure the time will fly and I'll be back before you have a chance to miss me. Of all the things I'll miss (cocktails, Indian food, running water, paved roads, crazy people on the street trying to convert me to Budhism, 1419, Gonzaga games, Predators games, soy lattes, etc.) I hope you know you are all what I will miss the most. If you have this blog address then you have probably touched my life in a profound way and I thank you for all you have given me. But I guess I'm getting overdramatic :) I'll be back soon. I love you