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!