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. . .