Thursday, April 28, 2011


Unlike my outgoing, talkative dadi, my momi is quite shy and known throughout the community as being a quiet woman. While my dadi tells elaborate, exaggerated stories, she is content to sit in the background, her hands always working - peeling taro, weaving a basket, or rocking one of her many grandchildren to sleep. When he gets to a particularly ridiculous part of the story, she might raise her eyebrows at me or scrunch up her nose and shake her head, but her great affection for him and her quiet nature keep her from outright contradicting him.

This incredible woman whose saucepan is always full and whose kitchen is always open to hungry grandchildren daily endures the indignities of small hands pulling her hair, small feet dirtying her clothes, and small runny noses being wiped on her skirts, but she never loses her good humor. It is easy to make her laugh and when she finds something truly funny she squints up her eyes, throws back her head, and lets out a huge laugh unexpected from such a quiet woman.

Momi Evelyn has no interest in village politics or community development, but she loyally shows up to every meeting, every community work day, and every workshop. I know she would prefer to stay in her peaceful kitchen undisturbed, and her presence at these policy-making events is purely to show her support for me, my dadi, my sister, and whoever else might need to see a friendly face.

Despite her gentle demeanor, my momi looks out for me like a mama bear and woe to the man that gets in the way of my eating or sleeping. The first day of my workshop, as we neared our lunch break momi discreetly approached to tell me she had food waiting for me at the house - she knew I had been too busy to think about it that morning. At the break some participants came up to ask individual questions and I saw my chance to eat quickly slipping away. At this point my unobtrusive momi came up to our group and said some very sharp words in the local language. Although I didn't catch the exact meaning, the hasty retreat of the questioners told me momi had voiced her displeasure that they were keeping me away from my simboro. I am never allowed to go hungry and always the best of her garden - the ripest mandarins, the biggest tomatoes, the sweetest mangoes - find their way to my already overflowing plate.

I get great comfort from my momi. Her quiet, consistent presence makes me feel peaceful, and she seems to be the only one in the village who doesn't have the need to constantly pepper me with questions or requests. Often we can peel taro, rasras bananas, or roll simboro without talking - content to just sit together. She never fusses over me and without comment lets me crouch down around the fire with her, subtly teaching me how to cook, wash, and paint mats - imparting her vast knowledge of what it means to be a woman in this culture.

Surely I would be lost without this soft, loving woman, and her calming presence makes living this crazy experience possible.

I'm Back!

I've been away from my blog lately because I haven't been around the Internet and I've been busy busy busy. And before that. . .I had nothing interesting to report. January was a tough month filled with cyclones, and I experienced the worst Peace Corps hardship yet - Excruciating Boredom. I had no cute, witty stories to fill my blog (once you get over waking up with the first lizard in your bed, the second and third bed-invading lizards just don't provide good material. If you've heard one lizard story, you've heard them all) and I had already complained enough about the weather. Then most of February was spent in a classroom in Vila and I was pretty sure you guys didn't want to hear about Project Design Management or how to maintain good mental health out in the jungle.

But don't you worry because now I'm back in the village and gathering lots of blog-worthy material. The sun has come out, I have lots of work to do, and the weeks are flying by.

One of the highlights is that I ran my first workshop. Weeks of planning and preparing culminated in a 2 day workshop on Family Budgeting and Household Money Management. In a total of 10 hours I worked with people with little or no education on how to properly manage their finances. We played games, did group activities, and they listened to me talk way to much, and at the end we celebrated with kava and a roasted pig. Among the attendees were 15 men, 13 women, some kids and a chicken, and I was very pleased with the turnout (except for the chicken - he was very rude and disruptive and had to be kicked out of class). It seemed pretty successful. Already word has spread and several other communities have approached me to ask if I could bring the workshop to their area.

As for my other work: I found an additional buyer for our handcraft group so we're getting busier, I'm helping with the budget and the finances of building a new church house, I've been working individually with some small business owners, and I hope to soon be successful in getting the National Bank of Vanuatu to come start a rural banking program in m area. Like I said - busy! But being busy makes me happy and I finally feel like I'm doing the work I came her to do. The last thing I want to do is turn North Ambae into a greedy, capitalist society, but if I can instil some financial competency, help provide ways of making income (if wanted), and train people how to plan for the future, I will consider myself lucky to have had such success and will be extremely grateful I can give back even a tiny portion of what these amazing people have already given me.