Sunday, August 24, 2008

Vanuatu quirks

Well, I've been here almost 3 weeks now and Vanuatu is definitely a quirky place. What a blessing to be able to be here learning language, culture, and meeting new friends before training in Australia next year! Here are a few lighthearted items of note on living here:

1. Being "one with nature" is a necessity since nature wants to be "one" with me. Check out the bug at left. That's Houghton's hand and my camera case this thing is dwarfing! It wasn't dead here by the way, just in need of assistance to turn over. It ran around a bit after our help, then FLEW away. We didn't expect that. Can you imagine that thing flying in your face? Cockroaches here are a good 2-3 inches long. I've only found one so far in my new place, but Gretchen and kids played "hunt the cockroach" the other day in the house I shared with them until recently. They found and killed FIFTEEN within an hour or so of "playing." One must sweep every crumb and wash dishes after every meal because of these things. Geckos also live inside and out but I don't mind them since hopefully they are eating... some sort of bug I'm sure. They chirp, by the way - day and night. To the right here is the smallest little guy I've seen so far. Average size seems to be about 5-6 inches. Ants are also constant companions. I had thousands swarming my kitchen table upon first moving in to my new place last week. All were about the size of a pinhead. Ant traps I think at least scared most of them off, thankfully. Now just the normal sized ones run around all over. Whoa baby, there's some big spiders here. I have some small ones I just let live in my house - once again hopefully eating... something. The big ones though stay outside only or else they die! I mean to post a picture later of some beauties. Little worms live all over too and one must wash produce carefully for fear of slugs. That's mostly it for indoor creatures. Outside the chickens run everywhere and roosters don't just crow in the morning but all day and all night too. Dogs run everywhere as well and howl and bark at a frenzy about every 20 minutes or so as I timed it the other night. Earplugs at night are essential but ginormous headphones might be a good investment!

2. Prices are high and rising for most things. Ni-Vans keep talking about how rice has doubled in price in the last year so the people are feeling it, big time. Produce items were amazingly cheap last year when we surveyed here but now are close to what one pays in the States. Grocery store items and especially dairy are about double what one pays in the States. Rent is about what you'd pay in the city in America and electricity here is the highest per kilowatt-hour in the world! Water is heated by propane and all stoves are propane, which is also ridiculously priced. (Here's how I close the door of my oven here in the picture to the left.) Washers aren't even hooked up to hot water because of the exorbitant cost. Interestingly, I was able to buy a brand-new cell phone for $20 and I can get cell coverage even on the remote islands here. They are all pre-pay only and that goes fast, but "can you hear me now" from the bush in Vanuatu - crazy! Another nice cheaper item is beef, which is about half the cost of that in America minus the steroids and preservatives so it's a tasty treat. Chicken on the other hand, well, I just don't even look at it here. Maybe I'll buy some sometime for a special occasion!
3. The sound of silence... doesn't exist except when trying to talk to a Ni-Van, who in most cases will talk so quietly they'd need a microphone for me to hear them. That makes language learning tricky! Other than the quietness of speech, this is a noisy place, especially at night. People are shouting (what? I thought they were quiet... yah, I can't figure it either), dogs barking, roosters crowing, geckos chirping, cockroaches skuttling, and then there's the election craziness. September 2 is the election for everything here. I think everyone should vote for Wendy because her election posters downtown claim that she is "the only candidate officially endorsed by Jesus Christ." A friend told us about a bulletin board he saw in town reading only "Moses...Jesus...Wendy." Well, that's enough for me! She's a Chinese lady so I'll be interested to see if she gets any votes. Back to the sounds though, after dark (which begins around 5:30 or 6PM here, it is winter after all) trains of cars go through the streets honking. People are shouting and kids run after the cars shouting too. Usually the front truck has someone with a bullhorn shouting unintelligible things that others chant in response to about some candidate or another. I thought it was just my pitiful ability to understand Bislama preventing me from understanding what was being shouted. However, a native commiserated that no one can understand what the bullhorns are proclaiming. Ah well, it makes for a laugh at least. Everyone is very fired up and excited. Finally on this topic of sounds, there are lots of bands here that play at the local kava bars at night, or a lot of reggae is played (CD or radio? Not sure). Friday nights one can hear music at top volume until about 4AM.

3. It's wet here, even though it is the winter and the dry season. I remember this from last year too that upon arriving, the constant smell of mold is around but after a week or so, that fades from notice. Heavy whiffs come up now and then but that seems to be an easy one to adjust to. So when I come back smelling of mold, you'll have to remind me that I reek! :) Now it rains and is overcast about 5 of 7 days, which we are loving cuz it's not so hot! It's been in the 70's-80's most days which feels pretty nice with the breeze. When the sun comes out though, it heats up kwiktaem (quick time)! Sitting around feels pretty nice especially with a breeze coming through the house but I realize the heat and humidity when I do anything - walk to the trash, wash dishes, carry Gweny or Addy around. After any activity requiring movement, I'm soaked with sweat. In the States my hair dries in 15 minutes but here it takes about 3 hours when I'm just sitting around. If I'm moving, it never dries cuz I'm sweaty. Isn't that lovely! Dishes left to drip dry will never dry and towels never fully dry. It is the dry season, but when it is raining, the roads are so muddy I just expect to be splattered in mud up to my knees and up the backs of my skirts just from walking a short strip of road. Now if only I weren't so white it wouldn't be as obvious how dirty I am!
4. Smells aren't absent here like in the States. I remember hearing from or about a missionary kid who complained that when in America, one can't smell meat or produce when walking through the grocery store; that everything is sterile and without smell. Well, when you go to the meat market here, you definitely smell the meat. Most common odors here are smoke (fires for cooking and burning trash), rotting vegetation, body odor, and mold. It is somehow comforting to know though that unlike America, where it is inappropriate to stink, here I just fit right in. :)
To the right is some toilet paper. It reads "gudfala toilet pepa blong yumi" or good fellow toilet paper belonging to us.
5. The people are lovely. There are lots of missionaries here in the city from every denomination you can think of and I've met quite a few of them, as well as many expatriates living/working here. I have felt very welcomed and included in that community. Ni-Vanuatu, or Ni-Vans, as the local people are called, are in general here in Vila very sweet, smiling, welcoming, patient with language blunders, helpful, full of humor, shy and humble, quiet, and modest. I have met some very sweet people and been able to have little Bislama conversations pretty regularly. However, I am still praying for a friend I can practice with to get used to hearing and understanding Bislama.
It's a bit more awkward to take pictures in the market and of people when living somewhere than when just surveying or visiting so I have a frustrating lack of pictures of people. I mean to rectify that this week despite the embarrasment of asking so check back for people pictures. I do have sketchy internet pretty regularly now so feel free to shoot off an e-mail to me! If you send pictures, please send them one at a time because it sometimes takes hours to download all my e-mails and any one big file can slow it down considerably. Thanks for your prayers. God is faithful in keeping me safe, healthy, and allowing me opportunities to meet new people.


Bledsoe Family said...

Laura~so good to hear how things are going!!! I can empathize with you on the large bug issue, as I had the same experience living in the Cayman Islands~the spiders were the WORST!!! But you sound terrific and we think and pray for you often! Looking forward to the next blog post!

James said...

It sounds like you are keeping your sense of humor. Adjustment must be very hard. Hang in there.
We're praying for you.

James, Casey and Lydia

anm said...

This is a great post, thanks Laura, for giving us an idea. Know that you are in my prayers. May God be your peace and strength and wisdom, knowledge, joy, comfort... and all else you are in need of!!
With His great LOve, Adrian