Each of the incredible women in my next biographical installment deserve their own blog post, but I look at the dwindling months of my time here and I know I won't get a chance to do everyone justice. So I've grouped them together, but don't make the mistake of thinking that makes them less important to my life here! These women who make my life so much happier and more fun live in the neighboring village of Waluriki, down at the coast. When I take the boat from Lolowai I land on their beach and take the road directly up the hill to my own little village.
First of the four is my Auntie Roline. Initially I got to know Auntie Roline through the handcraft group and quickly came to realize that she was the most talented and innovative of the basket-making artisans. Her baskets are consistently top quality and she's recently come up with a new basket design that is all the rage in Vanuatu. When I carry her creation around the capital of Port Vila tourists and locals alike inevitably stop me on the street and ask where they can purchase such a beautiful basket. Unfortunately, Auntie Roline is the only one who can create these unique baskets and there was no way for her to keep up with the demand. So we no longer market the baskets and only a lucky few get to decorate themselves with these collector's items. In spite of her incredible talent, Auntie Roline's weaving proficiency is not the reason she appears in this blog. Rather it is her quiet confidence, her loving personality, and her commitment to looking after me that makes her so special to me. Even when I was very new here and barely even knew the people in my own village, Auntie Roline took me under her wing and made sure I never wanted for anything. She has an amazing ability to pull fully cooked meals out of thin air and any time I see her she makes me eat. One time I protested and asked her why she feels she always needs to feed me. True to her personality she simply said, "Because I'm your Auntie and I like you." Simple, to the point, no-fuss kindness - that is Auntie Roline. Waluriki is in a central location and I often walk through it on my way to other villages or when I'm trying to find transportation to Lolowai. Anytime I pass her house I know I can stop and chat, get a drink of water or a snack, or even sleep on her floor if it gets dark and I don't want to climb the hill by flashlight. Somehow being with my Auntie Roline is so calming and comfortable - I know I can relax and just be myself and she will take care of me. She and her husband are also extremely supportive of all my projects - coming to my workshops, acting as liaisons to other villages, and helping organize the rural banking program. My life would certainly be a lot harder without the two of them.
In stark contrast to my quiet, unassuming auntie comes the other three Waluriki Wonders: Anita, Olga, and Betsy. These three are sisters and range in age from 18 to 25. In the very reserved culture of North Ambae, people usually try no to cause a scene and in public rarely show outward signs of emotion or affection. But these giggly, loud, and lively ladies break the mold. Being a hugger myself, it was hard to get used to living in a place where physical contact is rare and at best you might get a kiss on the cheek from your close female relatives. But luckily for me I found these affectionate sisters. Any one of these girls will launch themselves at me when they see me, hugging and laughing and pulling my hand to drag me into a gossip session. Sometimes their overly enthusiastic attitude and loud affection attract looks of disapproval from the more traditional women on the island, but I find them refreshingly fun and friendly. It is impossible to be lonely in their presence. Olga will come tackle me and refuse to leave me alone until I'm breathless and laughing like a pre-teen. Betsy will see me on the sidelines of a soccer game and promptly install me as team goalie (graciously ignoring my lack of skills). Anita will whisper in my ear and steal me away for a private gossip. On one occasion Betsy and Olga showed up at my house with mischievious twinkling eyes and poorly hidden giggles telling my family they had something extremely important to discuss with me. When we were out of hearing distance they confessed they were kidnapping me to accompany them to a birthday party in another village. I am quite sure my protective mom disapproved, but it made me happy for a week. In my community I am lucky to have a loving family and many people who respect me and look after me. But only Anita, Olga, and Betsy can be considered true "girlfriends." Although they could never replace my fantastic four at home, these girls have the ability to make me forget I'm a Peace Corps volunteer living way out of my element, and instead make me feel like a girl just hanging out with her friends.