Wednesday, December 24, 2008


This is going to take awhile to load so start it, read below, get some hot chocolate, make some popcorn, and come back. :)

My friend Magreth has 3 sisters. Gretchen and Tania both have gotten to know her oldest sister, Wini. Wini invited us to come up to her place (on the same grounds as Magreth's) for a katikati. I guess what a katikati is is a sort of raffle game. Two deck of cards are used. In this case, for 5o vatu (about 50 cents), a card could be "purchased." Once all cards from that deck are purchased, a card from the 2nd deck is drawn. People holding the purchased cards check theirs against what was drawn. Whoever's card was drawn wins the prize (example: 7 of hearts), which in this case was an island dress. Wini sells the dresses for 1500 vatu each (about $15). This isn't much for something hand-sewn and for a dress in general, but it is a pretty high price for island dresses here. The one dress I did buy when I first arrived was 1000 vatu (about $10) so she's getting a bit more profit than others do. Wini just stepped down from her other job working as nanny and housegirl for a New Zealand woman, so it seemed she was using this katikati as a kick-off to let women in her neighborhood know she is selling dresses out of her home now. The older generation of women wear island dresses nearly exclusively, but otherwise women and children wear them for church, weddings and funerals, ceremonies, and other special occassions. Doing the sale allowed Wini to make a bit more on the dresses (assuming lots came to the katikati and bought cards) and also allowed some women a chance at a new island dress for a fraction of the cost. Wini asked us to come up to help with prep and set-up so we had some nice times to hang out, practice Bislama, see a new aspect of culture, and deepen relationship with her and the rest of their family. Thanks to Wini's daughter Beverly, I got lots of pictures I'd never have gotten on my own!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ekipe Village Expedition with Tania

Tania, my teammate, and I went to Ekipe village, north of Vila about 2 hours. We stayed with a Peace Corps worker, Carol from Iowa. She was awesome to let us stay in her house for 2 nights and she totally took us around the village and to a wedding event too. Part 1 and 2 are videos made with pics Tania and I took. They may take an eternity to load, not sure, so start them loading, then do something else for awhile and come back! This was a great trip for Bislama practice, time for Tania & I to hang out, and to see village life. Also though, it was great to get an idea of what would be great to set up temporarily in the bush while homes are being built (pre- electricity and running water!) Grace!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hip hop

Aside from the local string bands and a love for Bob Marley and reggae, hip hop music seems to be the next music genre love of Vanuatu. There are tons of hip hop groups here and competitions here and there. We were able to attend a hip hop competition last night. "We" includes Houghton, Luwi & Monique's kids = Susan, Fred, & Timo, Jesiah & Gwen, and me. Gretch didn't get to go cuz Addy is contagious with impetigo, poor thing!) It was advertised as being from 4-9 PM so we arrived at 5PM thinking being an hour late might put us right on Vanuatu time. Well, we waited until about 6:30, and then they started making announcements. Around 7, the crowd started arriving and the event had started. By 8:30, the place was packed - people standing, sitting on the floor all the way around the dance arena. The event went to 10PM and I think it didn't go later just because the emcee's were from New Zealand and kept things moving. Very interesting to see culture at play. They had to fight to get the crowd to participate and to get the participating dance crews to come to the stage when it was their turn. They'd call the name of the group multiple times, conclude that the group wasn't present, then give up on the group. About that time, someone would convince the group to show themselves so they'd slink up to the dance arena, still hanging back from actually entering. At prompting from the emcee, they'd finally come in. Aside from that, it was AMAZING to see these ni-Van dancers. Some groups had kids so it was super cute to see little guys strutting their stuff. Each group performed individually to self-picked music, then they had the "battles." The judges chose winners based on crowd sound for each competing group but the final 1st and 2nd place were chosen by the judges (from a New Zealand hip hop group, Sweet & Sour).

Other notes about the event - this gym is the one I've been going to my workout classes in and it's pretty ghetto. The floor is concrete so imagine doing head spins and flips on that (and not smoothed concrete, for that matter)! Also, it's up to the season of hotness here now where you just feel like you have a constant fever - breezes give you goosebumps cuz your body is so hot. Imagine now a gym with some metal louver walls letting in a bit of a breeze, but packed to the gills with people and then dancing hip hop in that kind of heat. Insane.

Also, before the event started, I left to go back to the car with Gweny to get the snack/drink sack Gretchen packed for the kids. When we were walking back to the gym, a whole crowd, along with multiple police officers were in our walking path, escorting a squirming prisoner. Just that day, in response to unrest about conditions in the "high security" prison, prisoners escaped and the prison house was burnt to the ground. I put that in quotes because just in the time since we've been here there have been 2 successful outbreaks that I've known about with multiple prisoners escaping. Reportedly, (as written by this morning's newspaper), the prisoners gave government officials a deadline for addressing concerns about conditions of the prison before they were going to walk out. The deadline came so prisoners got an ax and hacked the locks on the cells. They used a thick Bible with "peace" written on the side, placing it upside down on the razor wire. They then climbed a tree and jumped over the prison fence using a branch and the Bible to avoid cuts. Of 65 prisoners, the newspaper reports 26 prisoners being detained (many with gunshot wounds from chasing police and wire cuts) and doesn't report any still at large. Prisoners were moved to the "low security" prison and those low risk prisoners were moved to the VMF (Vanuatu Mobile Force) barracks. Not sure how that's all going to work out. Anyway, I moved as far to the side as I could with Gweny to stay out of the way but when I got back to the gym everyone was pretty stirred up about the catching of this prisoner. An event organizer got on the microphone and encouraged everyone to enjoy the event and that it was just a prisoner who was caught. Hmmm, no big deal I guess. Our team was just talking the other day about needing to make a plan in the event of some sort of military coups or government collapse. It seems not too far fetched to have something like this in place. BMW does also have emergency evacuation plans for missionaries. Please pray for the government and people of Vanuatu - for wise and moral leadership and protection of this country. For the most part, things are peaceful and friendly here, but tempers can flare quickly and people can get stuck in the middle. Military and police here don't seem to necessarily be trained or organized in a way to be very effective in handling problems.

Despite all of this, the hip hop event was very fun to watch and Luwi and Monique's kids seemed to enjoy it. Jesiah and Gwen went home part-way through but seemed to like it too.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Kastom and religion

Kastom is something I don't know if I'll ever fully understand here in Vanuatu. From what I think I do get so far, it seems to be the way of life, the way of thinking, the culture, the default. It would seem to be that although most in Vanuatu would call themselves Christians, a true understanding of the Gospel is not held and a strange mixture of the religiosity of Christianity, animism and kastom exists. Below are some examples of how this manifests and believe me, there are hundreds of other examples like these out there, these are just some I've heard first-hand from ni-Van friends and think I am portraying accurately from what I've learned just in the short 4 months I've been here. (Keep in mind too that all of these examples are things that were shared with me in Bislama so I may not have understood fully but these are as accurate as I know how to make them.)

Magreth and her family mainly attend the New Covenant church branch on the same grounds as all their homes. The service time is set to be the same time as "the morning dew" because one can "feel God more" at that time. A crudely built box sits on the family property. This box has the purpose of containing bad behaviors and thoughts. When a person goes to a certain church, they decide to change. They must then build a box and place all their "rubbish" thoughts and behaviors into it. From that time on then, they can do what is good. The box is behind Wini (holding Addy) in these pictures. I wasn't taking pictures of the box specifically so sorry, it's a bit hard to see.

Mary sat on the bus holding branches filled out with leaves. She explained that the leaves were from a gum tree and were for making medicine (as a remedy for swallowing too much salt from the ocean and then having a sore belly). However, the leaves alone are nothing, it's the prayer over the leaves that make them able to heal. Water is boiled over the fire and a leaf or two is added. The resulting liquid is prayed over and the sick person drinks it and then recovers. Man, woman, and child can drink this liquid. In the past with kastom, the leaf was believed to be enough, but Mary goes to a church here in town in which she and others feel they have gifts of prayer and healing. Now she believes it to be the prayer over the leaf that actually makes the sick person well. Mary's children are all grown and all living and have children of their own. She reports that neither she nor they have any problems now because she is a Christian. She feels that because she is a Christian, so are they. Evidently everyone in Vanuatu is a Christian now, including me because I live here now. The strong evidence she gave as supporting this claim is that everyone is always happy in Vanuatu and always smiling and people share everything with each other.

Evelyn's daughter's father headed out and hasn't been in the picture since; a common occurrence in Vanuatu. She married the father of her 2nd child, Joe (here with her). Once they were married, they decided they wanted kids together. They knew she couldn't get pregnant however, because they knew him to be sterile (he knew from past experience so I understand, and they had it verified with a doctor at the local hospital). In order for Evelyn to become pregnant, they decided to go to a medicine man (kleva). He boiled a leaf and had Evelyn drink the resulting water. Shortly after, she became pregnant and later gave birth to Joe.

I visited my friend Claudia at the hospital where she was staying with her husband, Ronnie. Ronnie went to the hospital complaining of weakness and stomach pain. He was fatally low on blood so over the course of several days, received multiple blood transfusions. The majority of this blood came from family members who were expected to come in and be tested (for blood type and HIV) to donate to him. After a few days of transfusions, he is able to walk around again and has gained back most of his color and energy. There was no real explanation or testing for the cause of the stomach pain, but mainly because Ronnie and his relatives feel the stomach issue is a spiritual one. They believe that an enemy or kleva (someone with knowledge of kastom spells) of some kind mixed up a poison and got it into his food at some point. The reason given for why someone might do this is that they might be jealous of his nice house (keep in mind that their house is a two bedroom the size of my office at Willow Creek Elementary with no running water and one lightbulb.) Now that poison (possibly a demon, they felt) is in his belly causing pain. Two options have been discussed within the family for how to remedy this. One is to pay a woman who works at a local ("evangelical") church here who "works on the side of prayer" (or is considered to be a woman with a gifting of healing and prayer). She has offered to pray over a water bottle and gave directions that Ronnie should pour some of the water over his hands, rub them together, and then rub his hands on his belly. Finally, he would drink the remaining water from the bottle. Within the day, the poison/demon would pass out of his body. The second option is to pay for a flight to Tanna island to visit a very powerful medicine man/kleva. This man would pray over his belly, boil a leaf in water, have Ronnie drink the water, and again, this would make the poison/demon pass from his stomach. The family hasn't yet decided which option to choose but everyone is giving their input and when the doctors have fixed his blood issue, one or the other will be followed.

In Port Vila, there may be a church around every bend (read my post on "church"), and many in the villages around Vanuatu, but dependence remains on kastom and animism. Pray for understanding of the gospel here in Vanuatu and for freedom from fear. Pray for discernment for me and our team, as well as other Christian workers here - that we may be able to share the Gospel clearly and not introduce further syncretism (mixing of beliefs) or confusion. Also that we may be able to discern what is simply herbal medicine or remedies and what is spiritism.


I posted some pics recently of the gorgeousness of God's creation on display in Vanuatu and you can check out the bottom of this e-mail for a few more. This is a lovely place scenery-wise. It's really not so lovely in smell though. Here are some (literally) stinky things about Vanuatu:

Contrary to what one would expect of the capital of a 3rd world country, Port Vila has a trash pick-up system complete with garbage trucks and everything. It works quite a bit different than what I knew in Idaho and Montana, however. Of course there's no separating out recycling and no sorting required. Trash pick-up ideally happens 3 days a week. I say ideally because there are a million and one public holidays here so many times pick-up days are skipped or they just don't feel like collecting or they take too long and don't get to all of them... Garbage is to be in tied plastic sacks. Pretty much all businesses and all the white folk here have garbage bins. Garbage men don't just dump the whole bin into the truck in one fell swoop though. Rather, they reach into the bin and remove each individual garbage bag from out of the bin, examine it (to see if there's anything they may want), and toss the sack into the truck. Nasty! For everyone else, most ni-Vans just have roughly built wooden shelves up off of the ground that they set their trash up on top of. The idea is to keep trash off the ground so the continually roaming dogs and chickens don't tear open the bags and scatter everything all around. Well, the idea works in some instances but is pretty typically ineffective. The chickens often just fly up to the shelves and dig into the trash. This makes walking tricky here because one can expect to be wading through or stepping around all types of trash, from mango skins to cracker packaging to cans to milk cartons. Most Westerners throw their degradable trash right in with the rest, but ni-Vanuatu throw out things like peels and coconut husks and rotting vegetation into piles. Periodically they burn these piles (they aren't for municipal pick-up) so this makes for two smells - one, the sweet rotting vegetation smell, and two, the smoky burning smell. Mmmmm.

Walking into my building to come home means entering and to the smells of.... well, mold and shoes. (It is considered impolite to wear shoes indoors here so in my building, shoes are taken off in the entryway. At most homes or huts they are left just outside the front door.) Not quite home sweet home, but the smell does remind me of the basements of buildings at Grace College in Indiana, where I graduated from in 2000. The memories there with roommates and friends were sweet so the smell-to-memory trigger is something to be thankful for after all. :)

If you live in a humid State, and have lived in your State without air conditioning or dehumidifiers, you know about this one. It is about 2 days that my bath towels smell good and after that, it's like rubbing your face on an unwashed sock - yuck. The problem this time of year is that it is rarely dry enough to fully dry clothes (and no one has dryers here - or dehumidifiers). Therefore, things never really fully dry,which breeds mold and stink. And, with such high humidity and heat now, I sweat continually. If it's not raining from the sky, it's raining from my head sooo, some of my clothes never fully smell free of sweat either. The other day I was hanging up my (clean, just-washed) clothes and sniffing, thinking, whew - what is that disgusting smell!? After some sniff tests, I realized it was 2 things: my clean clothes, and my just-washed hair. Nice.

Yep, my hair reeks most of the time. Maybe I just need to buy something other than the cheapo shampoo and conditioner I use, but pretty soon after I get out of the shower, it already smells. Unless I entirely shaved my head, there is really no way of keeping my hair dry here. Within seconds of getting out of the shower, I'm sweating and need a shower again, so that could be quite the deal, spending all day in the shower. :) I don't bother, by the way. And since I'm always sweating, even if I sat perfectly still in my house, my hair would never fully dry. Rather than try to let it dry, I just brush it wet and pull it up. It stays up and wet all day until bedtime, when sometimes it dries when I let it down for bed. That means wet scalp all day and stinky, itchy head. Again, nice. :) Speaking of the heat, there are many times now that I have to remind myself not to make an idol of my ceiling fan and stationary fan... :)

Ok, so now who's ready to come visit stinky me and stinky Vanuatu? If I scared you off, just ponder God's creation and beauty here in these last pics and maybe you'll decide to keep saving those dollars for a plane ticket after all. :)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Daily sights

There are some things I see on a pretty regular basis so I took some pictures of some of the "regular grind" for you to see and experience a little more of what life is like here in Vila. Essentially I have 3 categories of things here:

1. The walk between Gretchen's and my house

2. Market and roads - I could take hundreds of pictures just at the market of all the crazy fruits, vegetables and other things you can buy there. Here are a few, along with some things seen fairly regularly out in the ocean or on the roads.

Click to play Walk & Town 12-08

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3. Flora - when I first arrived, everything just looked like an overwhelming sea of green everywhere...indistinguishable and unknowable. Now that I've been here awhile, I'm starting to notice the variation and the color that pops out everywhere out of the green. Here are a few things you see just around, the side of the road, up the hill, in yards.
Click to play Flora 12-08
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Monday, December 1, 2008


We spent a day hanging out with various ni-Van friends at Gretchen's place recently so it made picture-taking a lot less awkward. Magreth had planned to come up to Gretchen's place with her younger sister, Jen, and all their kids (Jen's 3 and Magreth's 2 youngest). However, Jen ended up not being able to come at the last minute and the morning they were coming, the father of Magreth's 2 girls showed up and said he wanted to spend the day with them. That happens fairly rarely as I understand it, so he headed out with them at daylight and Magreth met me at the "Christmas tree" by the hardware store (our usual meeting place). Just the 2 of us then walked together up to Gretchen's. SIL is the owner of the properties that the Richards and I are staying in so I got permission 1st to have a friend on the grounds. They have requested that ni-Van friends not be invited into the homes (great temptation for stealing and every expat I know here has had at least one break-in to their homes). There is a small building just down from Gretchen's house that has books and home-school curriculum as well as some toys for SIL missionary kids. It has a tin covered cement porch so Gretch brought some mats down and we sat down there. The building has a toilet too so it was perfect. Tania and daughter Grace joined us for the day too. We played Skip-Bo all morning down there, speaking Bislama and storying-on. Great fun and great fluency practice, as well as something to keep things from being awkward when no one knew what to talk about. I have some other friends I might try the game thing with. It takes the focus off having to come up with conversation topics continually so conversation just flows more naturally.

In the afternoon, Gretch had made plans with Monique (who lives on top, next to her house, she's ni-Van and works for SIL) to make simboro. Simboro is grated root vegetable (or cooking banana) made into a doughy form, then rolled into island cabbage leaves. Here is the process in pictures. Please note that our finished product looks pretty pathetic compared to a ni-Van's completed work. Usually they are tight rolls like little taquito-looking things or really nicely rolled tortilla wraps. Anyway, ours were like little mushy lumps, but they tasted the same so no worries.
Step 1: purchase island cabbage in a rolled bundle at the market, in addition to either taro, manioc, cooking bananas, yam, or kumala (sweet potatoes)
Step 2: open up island cabbage roll, unravel each island cabbage leaf, break them off to just have short stems, and lay them in a pile (Tania and Gretch are our models for this one)
Step 3: peel, then grate the chosen root crop/banana (we used wild yam). Add a small amount of water to the bowl you are grating it into (notice this step and the ones above look an awful lot like laplap making) Here are Monique and Grace using the "rasras" (grater) to grate "waelyam" (wild yam)
Step 4: using fingers, mush up the gratings until it comes to a doughy consistency
Step 5: here's where this whole deal starts differing from making laplap - clump some of the doughy filling onto an island cabbage leaf and roll up the leaf into a bundle
Step 6: layer in a pan
Step 7: milk a coconut and squeeze the milk onto the rolled simboro
Step 8: boil until done (Monique was out of firewood so instead of using her firepit, we just used the gas stove-top).

Step 9: add a grub to the top as a garnish Step 10: ha, ha - who believed me on step 9? If I had you going there, you have to let me know. :) They do actually eat grubs here, but not (I don't think) in simboro. I haven't tried one yet but I'm sure in the village when we're all out of peanut butter and dehydrated ground beef, they'll be looking pretty tasty... The grub is one some ni-Van kids found out at Brad and Amber's place. They were playing with it and came to show us so we had to take pictures. This is Josh's hand holding the huge thing. He's Tania and Jim's boy. The real step 9 is eat (the simboro that is)! It's pretty good.
Tania, Grace, and Gretch plus the 3 kids went up to Magreth's family's place (to her sister, Wini's) to make laplap the day before we got together with Magreth for all this (above). Grace isn't afraid to snap shots all day long so they got some great ones of the whole laplap making process, many a lot better than what I posted a month or so ago. If you want to check out her pics, go to this link: Enjoy! Sometime when I'm not falling asleep on my computer I'll type up here why I didn't go with them and some cultural notes so if you're reading this right after I post it, check back in another day for "the rest of the story..." :)