Friday, January 21, 2011

Black tie optional . . . very optional

When the clock struck twelve on January 1, 2010, I was standing in my downtown Seattle apartment, in a sliver strapless cocktail dress and black peep-toe pumps, gazing out my 14th floor windows with 20 of my equally decked out best friends, popping bottles of champagne as fireworks exploded off the Space Needle. When I welcomed in 2011 I was dirty, without electricity, drinking wine that makes your lips burn, and slapping mosquitoes at a furious rate. What a difference 12 months and an ocean can make…

After spending a bizarre Christmas in my village, Nancy and I decided it was high time to get out of North Ambae and have some American time. We hightailed it to the relative luxury of Melissa’s post at Vureas, just outside Lolowai (she has electricity for 2 hours every night! And a shower! Albeit a cold one. And a gas stove with four burners!). We were not the only Peace Corps volunteers feeling antsy at our sites and before we knew it we had a party of 12 volunteers from 5 different islands. Lindsey, Jennifer, Nik, and Nic came from Maewo, Gene came from Santo, Jenni came from Vila (a good time to leave considering the flash flooding and 8 escaped prisoners on the loose), Jeff came from Malekula, and of course the Ambae girls were there (Melissa, Megan, Kara, Nancy, and I). We had a wonderful week – during the day we would swim in the ocean, play soccer, make trips into Lolowai to buy supplies or use the internet, or just hang out, and at night we listened to music, watched movies, played cards, and drank bottles of cheap wine and cases of warm beer. The whole time there was tons of laughter and I think everyone enjoyed getting a break from normal life.

Two of the highlights of the week were both the products of some excellent imagination and cinematography work. Vureas is a boarding school for grades 9 through 13, but their “summer” break is during December and January, so the campus was almost deserted. Students and teachers alike go back to their home villages to celebrate Christmas with their families, and Melissa was one of the only people left at the school. Nestled in a small valley with dramatic hills filled with jungle foliage rising up on all sides, the abandoned school grounds was beautiful and a little creepy. And in Nancy and my minds . . . a perfect place for a scary movie! So we recruited our actors, came up with a (vague) plot line, and began shooting scenes. What we ended up with was an awful, hilarious, perfect slasher horror film that I’m sure the Academy will be looking at closely this year. Be on the lookout for Peace Corpse: Vureas to come to a theatre near you soon. Or at least be posted on Facebook.

The other filming triumph of the week was a re-creation of Shakira’s wildly popular “Woka Woka” music video. For some reason this song was never that prevalent in the U.S., but being specially recorded for the 2010 World Cup, it became popular all over the world. I have heard “Woka Woka” so many times it is ingrained in my head, and since anytime anyone runs a generator the video is bound to be played, I could do the dance in my sleep. The only logical thing left to do was film our own Peace Corps Vanuatu version of the video. And it is beautiful. Ok, that’s an exaggeration. Comical? Yes. Amateur? Maybe. Would Shakira cry if she saw our style? Probably. And not from happiness. But it was fun, and the most booty shaking I’ve done since I came here, so I deem it a huge success.

As the 31st loomed nearer and nearer, we decided we had to do something to mark the start of our first full year as Peace Corps Volunteers. But what? There were no fireworks to be had, no horns to blow or bells to ring, no champagne to pop, and no TV on which to watch the ball drop in Time Square. But as one ingenious volunteer pointed out (or maybe two – the credit for the idea is still under some contention) we could make our own ball drop! So in the midst of a cramped little kitchen, illuminated only by solar lights and battery powered torches, 12 volunteers had our own countdown and watched our own coconut “ball” drop to the floor at midnight. We cheered and yelled and hugged each other, drank the last of the tequila, and then proceeded to fall exhausted into bed (in a land with no electric lighting, 8:00 is a normal bedtime and staying up till midnight was quite a stretch for most of us). During the next few days people filtered off to their respective sites by truck, plane, or boat. While some of us were headed back to the bustle of town and some of us were resuming our quiet village lives, everyone seemed to carry a new energy and a new resolution to make this year a productive one. 2011 will see the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Peace Corps, and the 73(ish) of us in Vanuatu will do our best to make sure we’re a part of a lasting influence.

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