The team had a great time celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time in Vanuatu. Tania did a fantastic job organizing the whole affair. She and Jim and kids have moved from the guest house where they were staying into Jack and Kay's main house. They are missionaries that help with Joy Bible Institute here in town as well as with some other AOG (Assembly of God) ministries. They have headed back to the US for a short furlough so wanted someone in their actual place. It is a house able to accommodate pretty big groups so was perfect for hosting our full team, as well as the Gibb family and a ton of other American friends we invited. Some calling other countries home were invited as well, but only very special ones... Ross and Lyndal stopped by for a bit. They just headed out last night to PNG (Papua New Guinea) to do a revision on the New Testament they translated a decade ago. I'm already missing my fun upstairs neighbors! Sophia came as well. She's a ni-Van woman I met at Talua on Santo when I was there in October. She and her new husband, Philip, work together with Andrew and Rosemary (staff at Talua - he's American, she's Australian) on the Bislama Bible Commentary project. Philip was Houghton's contact in Ambrym for the ministry opportunity we have there and the survey work the guys did there last month. Sophia and Philip were here in town and Hought and Gretch hosted them as they just needed a place to stay before heading to Australia for a conference. Philip's flight was earlier so he wasn't able to come to Thanksgiving. From the conference, Philip will return and start on his degree program at Talua (he already has a 3 year diploma, but will now start his 4 year degree). Sophia, however, is coming to Australia with us to Equip! (She's also a graduate of the diploma program at Talua.) She'll do the introductory 6 weeks of the program and head back to Vanuatu to continue her work on the Commentary. I went around town with her the morning of Thanksgiving to help her finish up some medical stuff for her visa. I got to see more of the hospital, as well as a Western doctor's office, the Australian High Commission, and just had great opportunities to talk with Sophia. The day after Thanksgiving, we hung out more and she shared a bit about her work on the commentary. She's an incredibly smart woman of 28, was just married a few weeks ago, and is a hard worker. She's still ni-Van though with her non-Western sense of time. She decided to start a load of laundry just as Hought and Gretch were out the door for Thanksgiving. She also missed her flight the next morning and had to re-schedule everything for a full day after, which is why I was able to hang out with her another day. We are so looking forward to her, and one other ni-Van (Pastor Peter, the head of the Vanuatu Bible Translators organization here) being at Equip so we can continue to speak Bislama with them and learn from them.
At our celebration, turkey was really the only customary food we were missing out on but we were able to order roasted chickens for the same price as frozen ones so the white meat on them tasted pretty close to turkey; yum! Otherwise, we were able to get potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, gravy, bread, homemade stuffing, all the good stuff. Gretch and I spent the entire day the day before making pumpkin pie, cheesecake, cookies, muffins, apple pie, and banana cream pie. It was really nice to have a traditional American feast, made complete with the feelings of being full to the point of popping. The nicest though was being able to fellowship with other Christians and spend some time in thanks-giving prayer. God has blessed us with so much.
There are a lot of events happening all around town all the time. Sometimes I hear about them from ni-Van friends, sometimes from expat friends, and sometimes I stumble upon them. Port Vila Day was one I stumbled upon. I went to market on Friday and saw booths set up all over in the seafront park so wandered over to check it out. They were making an announcement about Port Vila Day(s) being through Saturday. These kinds of things are a lot like fairs in the States with different booths, a few carnival-ish things for kids, music, and sometimes other entertainment. Amber and kids, Tania and kids, and me with Gretchen's kids (she was feeling sick this weekend) went to hang out a bit on Saturday. You can expect a bit of a mix of food you'd recognize (sandwiches, rice, pineapple) and island-style food (some stir-fry stuff with either fish, chicken, or beef, meat sticks, roasted taro or some other root crop, fried egg-roll-ish things with meat in them, sometimes laplap, etc.). I got sandwiches for the kids (one egg and one tuna) a plate of rice, taro, and beef stir-fry for me, and a young coconut with the top cut open for us to drink. Yummy. I ended up being in and out with Gweny and some bathroom issues (she's potty trained now but has lots of accidents) and left early because Jesiah had a sudden stomach ache, but it is always interesting to check out the culture of these sorts of events. They get packed out with people (shady spots are hard to come by), for the most part it is far quieter than similar events in America, and booths are made out of local materials. Check out the palm leaves that made up the walls and fronts of these booths! It's a fun atmosphere. When we arrived on Saturday there was a play on the stage about two crabs being chased by a cat (acted out by some guys from a group who called themselves "The Monkey Boys" - these are guys in their early 20's mind you!). Jesiah kept jumping at the narrator's vocal animation as the crabs tried getting away. The crowd was loving it, laughing. A note on the quiet thing: we went to a concert that was held in a park nearby Tania's house a few weeks ago. It had some local string bands, a local pop band, and some bands from neighboring countries, among other groups. Emily Gibb was asked to play her violin the night we attended so after a French clown act, she opened the concert. Brave girl, and she played beautifully! The crowd really packed in after dark, but even when she played at dusk there were several hundred people all sitting on the grass to listen. I was realizing as we were all sitting there in a big white-man clump :) that we were the loudest ones present. We were talking throughout the concert, kids were running around playing, and we were up and down the whole time. All the ni-Vans around us sat quietly, now and then mouthing or whispering to people around them, and kids for the most part sat and listened too. Concert etiquette here is quite different than America, that's for sure! The ni-Van pop band was trying to get people to stand up, come closer to the stage, and clap and participate more like an American pop concert would look. No one took them up on that but stayed put sitting quietly in the grass. No one standing, swaying and holding lighters... I was telling Jane when we left that everyone around us would probably be happy to see us leave so they could go back to enjoying the concert in quiet. :) Don't get me wrong, a lot of churches and concert set-ups like this have microphones and sound systems set up and they crank the sound, but the audience tends to be quiet, at least in the experiences I've had.
We've been also trying to implement some girls' get-togethers as a team. Friday afternoons are now girls prayer times, which is great. The guys get together for weeky or twice-weekly meetings so it's high time for girls to do the same! :) Tonight we had a girls' movie night. Amber and kids weren't able to make it, but Anna joined us. She's without her husband too (Ben's on Santo and our team's guys are on Tanna, as I mentioned above). Anna is the current Office manager for SIL/Wycliffe (so I see her a lot in the office since I live here) and she also works with YWAM with her husband, Ben. See earlier posts for a pic of them together. Anna has been a great friend here. We've gotten together for Bible studies and prayer, just to hang out, to meet friends, to go to an exercise class, and she's introduced me to quite a few ni-Van friends. She, Tania and kids, Gretchen and kids, and I ate junk food and watched "Secondhand Lions" together at Tania's place. On our way home Anna ran into some friends so walked home with them and Gretch and I caught a bus back to our place.
I think Christian fellowship here is definitely at the top of my list for what I'm thankful for. What a blessing to have friends as a team but also be able to get to know and enjoy others working here and learn from their experince and insight.