In in a previous post I said that I was able to spend some time in a village south of Port Vila. The village is called Pango and I have a friend, Elodia, who works in the city but lives out in Pango. Chrisenthia, who I met my first time out in Pango attending an event at the YWAM (Youth With A Mission), was celebrating her birthday with Elodia's family. Here are some pictures from our time out there and some discussion about the things I learned. Elodia is here with me after she gave me this lovely island dress "aelan dres." Ni-Vanuatu are so generous. She had given Chrisenthia a dress for her birthday and then gave me this one just for coming, or if for another reason, I don't know it. She taught me a lot about island cooking in a "local kitchen" which is what most of these pictures are. A local kitchen is basically a thatched hut with walls and a roof but it is still all open to get breezes in. Floor is just broken bits of coral on top of hard-packed dirt. Woven mats are laid down on top of the coral and you always take your shoes off before entering a house or local kitchen.
First of all, Elodia showed me how to peel yams. There are all kinds of yams - some pink inside, some white, some purple, some peach. They all taste a bit different too. They are meant to be peeled, then cut up and boiled. They are typically boiled in coconut milk, which is milked or "melekem" by hand. Here is a picture of Chrisenthia "melekem" one coconut. They are grated, or "scrajem" on a grater you sit on (see foreground of local kitchen picture above on the right). The gratings have a bit of water added to them, then with your hands you squeeze the milk out of them. That is poured over the yams and salt is added (me adding salt here). In a local kitchen, they are boiled over an actual fire here on this metal stove. Elodia's family also owns a sawdust oven where sawdust is burned inside a small metal box on top of which pots are set. Check out the small box (yellow) on the ground in the local kitchen picture up above (to the immediate left of the fire).
Elodia told me that all starchy root vegetables (yams, sweet potatoes/kumala, manioc, plantains/cooking bananas) are prepared pretty much this same way. They must be washed well (which in Vanuatu means rubbed "clean" in cold rainwater - even when you are eating at the market your dishes are washed this way). If they aren't peeled enough or washed off enough, they make you itchy. If they are eaten this way, your lips, mouth, and esophagus are itchy for a few days. She said your hands can be itchy too but coconut milk takes the itchiness away so if you melekem one coconut after you peel a root veggie, you won't get the itchiness. Pretty cool natural remedy, huh?
Here is the dishwashing station at Elodia's house. Her family buys regular dishwashing soap at a local store, then washes dishes in cold rainwater, rinses them and then they're ready for the next time. Same method is used whether dishes were used for raw meat, cooked food, or whatever. Dirty water is emptied out behind a tree in the yard (banana tree in this case).
The other thing we did was roast "rusum" meat in the local oven, which is a ginormous metal cylinder with burlap sacks over it (see right and also in picture up above with the big bright blue water container). These ovens are used to bake bread as well. Most bread here is sold as long baguettes, like in France. However at the market in the evenings, you can buy homemade bread in loaves and buy coffee from one of the "cooking mamas" and sit and have coffee and bread. The market is alive and well after dark but it's hard for me to go then as it's not really good for me to be out alone after dark here. It gets dark around 5:30PM here so the day goes by fast! I've been able to go a few times with friends.
After all the food was prepared and ready at Elodia's house, we had a feast and then just sat around talking ("storian"). We had drinks made with cordial concentrate (from the store) mixed with collected rainwater. Everyone lives in community here with all their extended family so I got to meet several of Elodia's siblings (she has 9), her parents, some in-laws, and nieces and nephews. The little girl in the picture at the top of the post above with Chrisenthia and I, Lolo, is one of her nieces. Elodia's family is a great one to hang out with for learning Bislama. They all are fluent in English (among other languages!) so when I don't know how to say something, I can ask in English and they are great at teaching the Bislama phrase or word. They are also pretty accustomed to foreigners being around because they host lots of YWAM kids and staff, living just right by the base. Elodia's dad is an elder at a local Presyterian church in the village. What a sweet family! I hope to be able to get out to Pango more in the future to get to know Elodia and her family better.