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!