Thursday, September 13, 2012

Life on Maewo... FML

During a visit to Baitora, South Maewo in June. Fellow PCV Lindsay Templin and I started making jokes about Maewo - focusing on the adage FML (or F@!k my Life)... We then decided to write these down and what started as a funny discussion became a list and that list became in article in the Volunteer newsletter: The VanAmerican. Below is the finished product. While some of these are contextual and probably only funny to those of us on Maewo Island (or maybe just Lindsay and me), I believe some of these FMLs are universal. Enjoy!

Life on Maewo… FML
From the world-weary minds of your favorite Maewo Vols: Lindsay Templin, Nik Karr, and Jennifer Blount

1)      Cow shit!? I… I thought it was a stone! FML.
2)      That looks slippery. That is slippery. There goes my Chinese bag… FML.
3)      Did I just see the sky through my roof? FML.
4)      Why is my white headband yellow? Rats… FML.
5)      Where’s the top of this hill… FML.
6)      Prickly heat… FML.
7)      How’d you lose your boat…? FML.
8)      Plane hasn’t landed in 5 weeks… FML.
9)      Where’s the bottom of this hill… FML.
10)  Crème Biscuits? Those are like Oreos right? FML.
11)  The wind just blew open my toilet door when I was wiping… FML.
12)  Kava… FML.
13)  I know they’re talking about me… What are they saying? FML.
14)  No, the last Volunteer did not speak local language NOMO… FML.
15)  Of course I’m fluent in local language… Stop speaking to me in local language… FML.
16)  Stringband? I’m actually enjoying this… FML.
17)  Why don’t any stores sell toilet paper? FML.
18)  You have a custom leaf for every health problem huh? Why did you want a Health Vol? FML.
19)  Drink tea? Sure! Wait. Where’s the tea? FML.
20)  Can’t leave my house today, trying to charge my solars… FML.
21)   It costs how much to get off Maewo!? FML.
22)  Why is it raining in my house? FML.
23)  Why does this toilet only have one wall? FML.
24)  I’m not so sure about this toilet… I hope these coconut tree stumps don’t fall down… FML.
25)  Why are there bones in my tin fish? FML.
26)  Wan Devil ia… FML.
27)  Why is my house at slant? Is this a joke? There rolls all my stuff… FML.
28)  I have to walk through that to my toilet!? Is it worth it…? FML.
29)  I have to pee sooooo bad… Why does no else ever have to pee? FML.
30)  I got kicked off ‘Team Talk’? No one sells top-up… FML.
31)  I ran out of hot sauce… FML.
32)  When did 72° become cold…? FML.
33)  Was that supposed to be funny? I missed the joke… FML.
34)  What’s that crawling in my roof? FML.
35)  How’d that spider get IN my net? FML.
36)  No, for the last time, I do not have Blue Video… FML.
37)  It’s 3 PM… I don’t think the Morning Community Meeting is happening… FML.
38)  I just walked an hour to get phone reception and my credit expired… FML.
39)  Why are there more babies than adults at my Community Meeting? FML.
40)  My cigarettes, vitamins, sports bras, t-shirts (among other things…) are all moldy… FML.
41)  Pretty sure sitting over this mosquito coil 24/7 is giving me a brain tumor… FML.
42)  Wake up, put on mosquito spray. Swim, put on mosquito spray. Just got bit between the toes… FML.
43)  Roach shit on my toothbrush. Rat shit on my dishes. FML.
44)  I check my mail every 3 – 4 months… FML.
45)  My village compares my “Wokbaot Skills” and “Fit-ness” to Nik – a marathon runner… FML.
46)  Another mosquito bit me on the ass while using the toilet… FML.
47)  It has rained every single day of “dry season”… FML.
48)  Why…? FML.
49)  Just spent a day writing FMLs… FML.

And from the more refined mind of Mister Man Bush Himself Nic Thiltges
50)  God I have to listen to people complain about Maewo, again… FML

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I do exist... and I am awesome

I'm still alive. I really need to post a blog. I will just busy. I'm extending my service. I'll be working at the SHEFA Provincial Health Office in Port Vila next year. Home for the holidays and then back to Vanuatu in January. I'll try and get on this...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

To America, From Vanuatu, With Love

So, I was going through one of my numerous ‘thoughtful’ moments as I walked back from the school in the evening and I just couldn’t help but start compiling a list of “Things I Miss in America” and, in contrast, “Things I Love About Vanuatu” and I decided, at that moment, that I needed to write these thoughts down (and, of course, share them with everyone). I continued to ponder these questions in a kava-induced stupor later that night and once I found the time I wrote them down. This blog is the finished product of those efforts.

      To America with Love (Things I Miss – in no particular order)

20-mile long runs at Nike HQ with Troy immediately followed by breakfast at Hometown Buffet (and don’t forget the coupons).

Long runs with Braxton following nights of copious amounts of drinking.

Politically incorrect, socially inappropriate, and morally reprehensible conversations with Justin.

Completely pointless, heated arguments with Crawford over arbitrary topics.

Dunkin’ Donuts (this one will probably have to wait awhile unless DD expands to the West Coast or I happen to end up in the Northeast again and following DD is probably a rather unimportant factor in choosing a career and place to settle down, but worse decisions have been made).
Regular access to Fast-Food establishments.

The McGriddle™.

Lack of Kava.

Cold weather.

Running on a team – finally feeling the longing again.

Running on something, anything, that is not a 200m round soccer field.

Regular access to Milk

Refrigeration, Microwaves, and Bacon.

From Vanuatu with Love (Things I Love – in no particular order)

Kava (like most things in my life, it’s a love/hate relationship)

PCVs – I’m not sure if it’s because PCVs are just totally awesome people or because after being on an island for so long any American would make me all warm and tingly.

Port Vila – some might disagree, but considering that our Peace Corps office is in the middle of a tourist hotspot, I think we are pretty lucky. Once again, it might just be my desperation for Western World Creature Comforts, but I’ve noticed that some PCVs don’t get as much satisfaction as I get from the destination.

Work. I’m a work-aholic. A lazy one, but a work-aholic nonetheless. Work can be slow, but I really do enjoy not being in a classroom finally.

Voodoo – Late-night Port Vila hotspot. Some PCVs will definitely disagree with me, but I am quite fond of the night club.

The Women – ‘nuf said.

Nambawan Bitter – micro-brewed in Vanautu.

Bananas or Taro and Coconut Milk.

Nalot Breadfruit (Blackman Cake) – they roast breadfruit over a open fire, then on a big piece of wood they pound the fruit into a pulp until it looks like a giant pancake, after which they pour boiling coconut milk all over it.

Fresh fruit – especially mangoes and pineapple.

Access to fresh fish, shellfish, pork, beef, and chicken on a fairly regular basis.

The breath-taking beauty that constantly surrounds me – especially awesome while stoned on kava.

Kenny. As soon as he asked me if I had “Blue Video” – pornography – his place on this list was assured.

Being able to walk around shirtless in athletic shorts all the time and still considered a professional – being judged on my knowledge and character, not what I wear or look like.

Island Hopping.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bislama Gems

When I first got to Vanuatu, I remember Bislama sounding like an awesome foreign language; later I learned that was because I was hearing a Puerto Rican speaking it and that added an extra flair. Bislama is basically mispronouncing the English language. Once you learn Bislama it loses all of its grandeur. The one good thing is that Ni-Vanuatu really appreciate the ability to speak in Bislama and that makes the language endearing, but the best part of the language is trying to discover how to explain things with limited word choice (i.e. the immune system, HIV/AIDS, family planning). In 2000, Bislama had approximately 3,500 words opposed to English, which had approximately 35,000. Following is a list of my favorite Bislama words and phrases with their appropriate pronunciations and translations – some of these, in my opinion, are very creative. Remember, I have a very juvenile sense of humor – and spent most of Pre-service Training laughing at these – so don’t be overly serious as you read. In that same vein, some of these aren’t very appropriate (or are slang).

Bislama (Pronunciation) – Translation

Gat Hed (Got Head) – to be intelligent

Blong Mi (Blow Me) – mine

Woman Blong Mi (Woman Blow Me) – my wife

Naoia ia Nao (Now ya ya Now) – the time is now

Dikim Hol (Dick-mm Hole) – dig a hole

Givim Titi (Give-mm Titty) – to breastfeed

Titi Botl (Titty Bottle) – baby bottle

Faetem Kok (Fight-mm Cock) – masturbate

Rod Blong Sitsit (Road Blow Sit Sit) – colon

Rod Blong Pikinini (Road Blow Pick i nin i) – vagina

Plen i Foldaon (Plane e Fall Down) – the plane landed

Ek i Foldaon (Egg e Fall Down) – a woman is fertile 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Observations: Women

Now to begin, this is not psychoanalysis of the female mind. I am far from qualified to perform such a task both academically and socially. Hell, I don’t even have a basic understanding of the female mind. I am far, far, far under qualified to tell you “what women want”. I don’t mean to be overly self-deprecating, but it should be stated beforehand that I am lousy at understanding women. Even my closest relationships with women commonly contain heated arguments and unfathomable misunderstandings. Seriously, I’m bad; so, going into this, just remember: I’m just making an observation.

Back in the States, women were confusing, but they at least made sense. I knew when they were angry, sad, happy, you know, general emotions, but here in Vanuatu, the land of passive-aggression and backwards emotions (if emotions are shown at all) I do not have a chance. In Port Vila it is many times easier. Port Vila has the heavy Western influence though – not so much on the outer islands. This brings me to my main point: Yangfala Gel (Young Girls) – girls ranging from mid-teens to my age and older (if they are still not married). You would think I would connect better with girls my own age opposed to being good friends with all the Mamas, who are 30 – 50+ with multiple children, but no, the opposite is true. I also fall into a different age bracket. While my age and single status qualifies me as a Yangfala, my education and position in the village push me up to Olfala – so I am like an Old Guy in a Young Guys body with the mentality of a Young Guy (somewhat). But to get back to the point: the women of my general age in the village. Generally, I am met with curious stares and nervous giggles. While at any of their houses with their parents (Young Women don’t move out of home until they are married) I am constantly pampered like I am unable to function on my own. Recently, during a health talk I made on Sexual Reproductive Health with the village in which I split the Talks into four groups – Young Girls, Mamas, Young Boys, and Papas –, I was confronted with the full range of emotions. While waiting for answers, which were extracted like pulling teeth (if at all), I was met with intense nervous giggles and eyes refusing to make any form of eye contact. While talking, I was met with random burst of nervous giggles and stares that immediately shied if I even glanced that direction.

Normally when I am met with laughter while making a speech, I presume that I said something wrong or stupid. So I’m standing there wondering if my fly is down – not the case – so WTF!? with the random bursts of giggles (it’s like they have hysterical hiccups). I just can’t grasp it; all the different emotions I can think of just don’t seem to fit. I believe they are just incredibly nervous around me, but that answer I just can’t understand. I believe they would go out of their way to avoid even hinting at a disparaging remark or action, so that would eliminate laughing at me. Maybe the subject matter, but no I’ve made groups of them explode into nervous giggles and quick, under-the-breath, local language conversations just by looking and saying ‘Hello’. This is a normal and common reaction that leaves me bewildered. How would I ever court (yes I used the word ‘court’ and I will damn well use it again) a woman in Naviso? If I ever tried talking to her, the conversation would be one-sided and she would be attacked by random fits of giggles. Besides the fact that courting would involve me coming in the night and knocking at her house until she came outside (this act is very appropriately called ‘creeping’). But if she is going to burst into giggles the moment I talk to her that will probably wake up the rest of the house – so much for being inconspicuous (defeating the purpose of creeping in the first place). Hell, I can even make some of the Mamas burst with giggles with a timed and concentrated look.

One time as I was walking to the other side, myself and two of my brothers passed a group of the Yangfala Gel on their way back over; we were going down a hill, them up the hill. As we reached the bottom and started climbing the other side out of the small valley, I glanced behind to find each and everyone looking at me and my brothers. At a prompting from my brother I asked, in local language, “What are you looking at?” The answer I received? “You.” – a clear and definitive “You.” Well, I don’t have the beginning of a clue. I’m not even sure you can call this an observation: I can’t even hypothesize based on this.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Observations: Hurricane Holy-SHIT-Fuck – Epic Tropical Low

Epic Tropical Low!? Gnarly Depression!? Yeah those don’t sound nearly as cool as Epic Hurricane and Gnarly Cyclone, but who uses the word Gnarly anymore anyway??

On Monday, January 30th, after a nice rainstorm overnight and into the morning and after my second to last ‘Healthy Woman, Healthy Children, Health Family’ Talk, Nurse Nicholas informs me that the radio has reported a hurricane (‘cyclone’ in this part of the world) over Efate heading South. Over the next day and a half I hear the same thing as we get pounded mercilessly by winds and rain – I mean coconut trees were bending practically in half before snapping up straight when the winds died down a little bit. People were strapping down for a hurricane: preparing houses, repairing old and new damage – Hurricane Holy-SHIT-Fuck is on the way and we’re ready. Well, the Peace Corps Office finally gets back to me on that wonderful gadget they gave us: the Satellite Phone. I can’t begin to decry the SAT Phone now, it would take an entire blog, but I can at least say that, you would think – you would think – setting up a network of satellites for the use of advanced phone networks would mean that the same ingenuity would go into designing the actual phone and its functions, but, unfortunately, no. They could take some pointers from the Cell Phone companies. In an actual emergency, I think I would walk the hour up the hill to use my cell phone instead of waiting on the SAT Phone. Now, to get back to the point, the Peace Corps Office gets back to me and tells me that Hurricane Holy-SHIT-Fuck is actually a Tropical Low – Tropical Low Holy-SHIT-Fuck?? – and is, in fact, not over Efate, but next to us. The Epic Tropical Low was, at that time, hovering over Santo – much closer to Maewo, which would explain the shit storm that hit us. I have never seen this amount of rain or wind. People who had gone to the gardens came back to find the river a raging torrent and were unable to get across. The following day the river had torn apart the surrounding land and practically doubled in width. The ocean had destroyed the beach and scattered coral and coconut trees all over. Worst of all, I found that my toilet had flooded. This was discovered as I realized the toilet paper wasn’t going very far down. With a handy flashlight, I found that my toilet’s pit – not even half full the day before – was filled with water mixed with excrement and almost to the top – Holy-SHIT-Fuck! In my estimation, that qualifies as a natural disaster, but that’s just my observation.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Observations: A Problem of Perspective

Besides the obvious frustration of failing to get my Parents to Maewo – I mean we could SEE the island! SEE IT!!! – after getting them all the way to Vanuatu, I have also had to tell the sad story to every person on Maewo (word spreads fast). Retelling the tale over and over again has resulted in me reliving the frustration constantly. While this is, at times, trying, the real problem arises in the Ni-Vanuatu lacking a sense of time. Americans fear time. We constantly live in time’s shadow, procrastinating and loathing the passage of time as we near deadlines. From the time we’re born we start counting the days until the end. Some even choose to spend their lives counting down to the end of the world (December 20, 2012. Duh!). Ni-Vanuatu do not share this dread of time’s passage. I believe they actually appreciate the passage of time – time passes very slowly out here. The island life, day to day living, never hurrying is at complete odds with the American life of planning months and years in advance, always rushing to meet deadlines, and sticking to stringent schedules. Nic Thiltges later recollected to me that his host family was completely shocked and could not understand my hurry as I rushed out of the village on my way to Naviso and eventually back to my Parents on Ambae.

Many times, Ni-Vanuatu will travel between the islands because of work or family. Transportation in this country, to use a cliché, will cost you an arm and a leg – it’s severely expensive. This, obviously, is a disadvantage for a nation filled with 83 small islands. Luckily, following the various cargo ships from port to port is cheap. Unfortunately, riding on a cargo ship might be the single most unpleasant experience ever. Cargo ships here are not glorious modern marvels, but usually a decommissioned Chinese-owned ship used in the Solomon Islands that was shipped down here and fixed up-to-grade for cargo. This is not to say all the cargo ships are like this, some are newer ships and all are locally-owned, but these are not ships that exude comfort and relaxation on the open sea; more often these ships exude bad smells, hunger, and vomiting. Almost every Peace Corps in Vanuatu has a horror story of ship travel. Everyone tries at least once, if not multiple times because it is significantly cheaper than all other forms of travel (Plane, Boat, Truck, etc.). But we must remember that the cheap costs are because the owners of the ships don’t care about you – they care about their cargo and profit. This is not to say they are inhuman, but they have a profit-motive and your schedule or rumbling belly doesn’t mean much in comparison. Thus, your ride will never be pleasant. You might have to sleep on a bag of kava; your trip might go from an expected 4 days to 2 weeks and with a lack of food your husband might have to call his friend, who happens to be the chef on the boat, so that you and your 1-year old don’t starve to death; you may spend 30-hours continuously rocked by the South Seas just wanting to vomit; you may find that, after going Number-2, the ship does not stock their toilets with toilet paper; you may find that running water in the faucets of the toilets was not thought important enough; you may find that comfort is much more important than saving money; you may find that being a badass riding a cargo ship in the South Pacific is a passing feeling. Ultimately, riding a ship is a majestic feeling, but is short-lived when confronted with living on a boat for more than a day. To get back the point, cargo ships can take excessive amounts of time to get places: Schedules are flexible, break downs happen frequently, and it takes a long time to traverse Vanuatu in these ships. Thus, when Ni-Vanuatu travel from the outer islands they rarely have a set schedule and never know when they will come back. In one instance I met a man from my village at a Maewo Kava Bar in Port Vila in August – I had no idea he had left Naviso, the last time I saw him was in March on his way to Lolowai Hospital on Ambae and he apparently jumped a ship to Port Vila – and he told me he would be back by September; upon taking my Dad to his first kava at the same kava bar, in later October, the same man hands me my kava – he eventually got back to Maewo in late November. Basically, very frequently, Ni-Vanuatu leave for unknown extended periods and just come back whenever.

Well this kind of leisure is not afforded by Travel Agents and thus my Parents were stuck in a Don’t you dare try changing me or the fell agents of the Travel Industry will fall open you like locusts and the rivers will run red with blood  Travel Schedule. Just trying to shift the entire package ahead a day, months in advance, risked incurring the wrath of the Galactic Empire known as Azumano Travel and the Collective Airline Agencies, but fees were the least of the problem: everything had to fall into place exactly as the Travel Agency had planned it – this can be problematic in the developing world, especially in an island nation with less than satisfactory transportation and unpredictable weather (we’re on the Ring of Fire people!! Check a map – we’re a disaster zone). Vice versa, the Ni-Vanuatu do not grasp this kind of stringent, no excuses, no tardiness schedule. Thus my biggest problem with telling everyone that my Parents couldn’t make it is the constant questions of when will they try again and why couldn’t they wait on Ambae until the weather was better. Well, the exorbitant prices and my Mom would kill me, to answer those respectively. Unfortunately, those don’t really sate their questions. I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but the idea that they only had a small window of time to get to Naviso and that the window passed and they missed it has been nearly impossible to convey. I believe some people understand that it was a one-shot deal and wasn’t possible, but the majority cannot grasp why they could get to Vanuatu, but not to Maewo – the Peace Corps Volunteer got there, why not his parents? I’ve found that this is one of the biggest cultural barriers I’ve confronted while trying to reach understanding. After being here for a year, I too do not understand why travel schedules are so stringent and inflexible. While the cost in Vanuatu for transportation is highway robbery, at least they don’t make you pay fees every time you need to change your schedule – at least you can change your schedule. I think flexibility is something America could benefit from – just an observation.