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!