Getting to know Galili

We have been in our new community of Galili for a couple months now and while we still miss our Ambae family everyday and wonder what might have been, we are starting to feel settled and at home in Malekula. Our house was finished at the end of November and we were humbled at how hard the community worked to meet the Dec 1st deadline. Our stuff from Ambae arrived mid December and while we still have a few projects  we are starting to feel at home in out new cottage.

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While our house, toilet and swim facilities are complete, our kitchen was put on hold while the community works on a few other more pressing projects such as a new health center, kindy classroom and house for a government teacher starting this month. Because of this, we have been cooking and eating with our family 3 times a day. In an earlier blog i discussed the national food of Vanuatu called Lap Lap. Just like on Ambae we are eating lap lap multiple times a week if not every day but Malekula has a special version of lap lap called lap lap sorsor (Shown in the two left photos below). It starts with a pile of grated starch but unlike Ambae laplap the middle is filled with a meat and veggies. Hot stones are placed with the meat and veggies and coconut milk is squeezed in the middle. The sor sor is covered with leaves and cooked under hot stones. Sorsor is a community meal where everyone sits in a circle, tears off a piece and dips it into the soup. Brian and i have also introduced a few favorites of our own such as banana pancakes (which my family loves) and spaghetti (Which they did not).

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Our days in the village when we are not working on our primary or secondary projects involve living life with our neighbors. The people of Galilie know how to work hard, play hard. The morning will typically involve helping with community construction projects or going to the family garden. Unlike in Ambae, we have not yet started our own garden because the community has told us we should wait until after cyclone season or the nursery will be washed out. In the afternoons, the mamas braid each others hair and the kids play at the river. In the bottom right picture are my partners in crime, Dechen and Brisca.

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The community of Galili is Seven day Adventist so they do not celebrate Christmas, However, the week leading up to and following new year was celebrated with balloons, card playing and fish! The game of choice in Galili is a game called seven luck which is played with poker cards but is suspiciously close to Uno. We have also introduced go fish, speed, and kings corner, but seven luck is still the favorite.

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In between card games and making lap lap we have also found a little time to do our job as water and sanitation volunteers. The community of Galili along with the previous Peace Corps volunteer worked hard to bring fresh piped spring water to the village. Before this project they hiked an hour or more to collect water from a nearby river. Now that clean water is just a few steps away, the community is working on adopting hygiene practices that were previously unavailable to them due to a need for extreme conservation. Common hand washing practice in Vanuatu involves a family bowl of water near the latrine with or without soap nearby that everyone uses to wash their hands. Depending on the availability of water this might be changed daily or just a few times a week. Since taps are now available throughout the community, many people choose to wash their hands at these taps instead of at the bowls however soap has not been placed at the taps until now. Our counterpart Moses worked with us to install soap stations throughout the village. These simple stations involve onion netting to hold the soap and a half coconut shell to protect it from the rain. So far these have been very successful, especially with the kiddos. There is also a local NGO that sends bush villages free soap on a regular basis so the community doesn’t have to worry about who is responsible for replacing the soap at any given tap.

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In addition to hand washing, the community is interested in improving the pit latrines they are currently using to cut down on fly populations in the Villiage. There are several kinds of sanitation options used in surrounding areas (water flush, compost, VIP). Our first step along with the health committee was to help determine what kind of toilets were right for the community. There are a lot of factors to consider but luckily we found a resource from a local NGO (Live and Learn) that provided a decision matrix! The right toilet for our communiti came down to a soil permeability test leading the community to favor VIP toilets over pour flush. Hopefully we will continue being involved in the construction of VIP toilets after the rainy season.

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I am now out of internet time and about to be kicked out of the resource center (i always wait till the last moment to blog). In the coming months we will be working with the community on a solar project for the school along with a food securing/ micro business improvement opportunity. Cant wait to tell you more next time we have internet service!!!!! -Laura and Brian.

 

New Beginnings- Galili Malekula

As you may be aware from our last post, a volcano has threatened our first site on Ambae island and we have been reassigned to Galili Malekula( see map below). Malekula is one of the largest islands in Vanuatu which means it has more access to resources and it is easier to visit our island if you are interested! Our site is one of the more remote villages in the middle of the bush in the northern part of the island. Kustom beliefs are very strong in this area and the Seventh day Adventist church also has a lot of influence on modern life.

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Since we are last min volunteers in this community, we have the opportunity to help build our house!

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We only spent a week in the community so far but so far are excited about how close-knit the community is. They are one big family and everyone made us feel very welcome. The week we visited was the last week of school so most of the social activities were centered around celebrating the school year such as the community picnic below.

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So far the work seems to include hygiene education, sanitation, bush kitchen ventilation and water for surrounding villages. We will know more about that after we spend more than one week at site. Heading back to site first thing tomorrow morning so that is all for now. Thanks for checking in on us!

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We have been in a constant state of flux over the last month and a half now as we have been navigating the consequences of a volcanic eruption at our site. The plan changed daily so we waited to update you so you can avoid whiplash. Now that the ash is settling and we are headed to a new site in the morning, time to catch you all up. Also i apologize for how short this is, i only have 30 min of internet!

In early September the volcano on Ambae, Manaro, was raised from a level 2 to a level 3 meaning that it was in a “minor eruption state”. Many other volcanos stay at a level three for years and are generally safe so we were not evacuated at that time. During the few weeks Manaro was at a level three it was letting off smoke that would typically head west due to prevailing trail winds. However, the two times that the winds shifted, the smoke came our direction quickly smelling strongly of sulfur (See picture below taken 15 min apart). In addition, we heard thunderous noises coming from the island throughout the day sometimes 20 min apart. We did not feel any tremors although some neighbors did and we were lucky to avoid ash fall unlike those on the west side of the island. Most of the community members were calm during this time but they would unhook the rain tanks if the wind was questionable to avoid acid rain. We would check in every other day with Peace Corps to record our observations and make sure there were no official updates from the meteorological department. smoke

On September 23rd around 4:00 in the morning Manaro had a “Moderate” eruption which raised the level of the volcano to four. We slept through it, but i remember smelling lots of sulfur when i went to the bathroom while it was still dark. We woke up at six and started getting calls from friends farther away from the volcano on Ambae making sure we were safe. Peace Corps arranged a air taxi plane to take us all off the island, but were told to pack light. We assumed we might be gone for about two weeks. We said quick goodbyes to our family, arranged a truck and headed to the airport. Below is a picture of the erruption that morning from Issac’s site. He is our closest volunteer. Our view was less good since there was smoke in the air. The next week the entire island of Ambae was evacuated to nearby islands (11,000 people). erruption2

While we were in Port Villa we attended a few trainings , volunteered with an organization designing temporary toilets for the Ambae evacuation centers, caught up with peace corps volunteers who live in the area and have been able to spend time with some people from Ambae who were also evacuated to Efate. Below is a photo of us playing at the beach with my host aunt and her children. We were also able to go out and enjoy some tourist spots and special events such as a Rodeo. Who would of thought i would have gone to my first rodeo in Vanuatu instead of Texas. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

During that month we also got the heartbreaking news that we would not be allowed to return to Ambae. We will miss the community of Vuimberuku more than we thought possible.  The Ambae Volcano has gone back down to a level three but has formed a new cone making it open to the atmosphere for the first time in a long time. Because of this, ash fall and acid rain will become the norm. Peace Corps would like to monitor the situation for a year or two before assigning volunteers to the sites again. Our village is now back home and getting used to their new reality. Our host parents have told us everything was covered in a small layer of ash but most of the gardens survived and they have been able to rehabilitate the rain tanks. All the Ambae volunteers from the year before us were sent back to the United States since they only had 6 months left of service and we were found a new site in the small remote bush site of Galilee. More info on this in our next post.

First Few Months at Site

Rangarea Blo Ambae!(Hello from Ambae)

Well actually i am not in Ambae right now (Brian is though), I am in Port Villa for a dental appointment meaning I can finally post about our amazing site and what we have been up to. First off, our site has incredible views and sunsets, but you work hard for it. There is currently no road up to our site which means we had to hike all our bags up over the course of multiple trips. Luckily many of our new neighbors helped us along the way. We have been averaging 4 to 10 miles of hiking everyday just from going to and from the garden and visiting neighbors.  This has been great during the cool dry season, but keep your fingers crossed for us during the rainy, muddy, hot, and sweaty months up ahead.

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Some Peace Corps volunteers closer to the city centers have concrete floors and water seal toilets, but we are on an outer island in what they call a “Category 4” site (Most remote category in Peace Corps). This means we get to live in an incredible “Kustom” house made entirely of Bamboo and Natangura leaves. Which prety much means we are on trend with the “Tiny House” craze the hipsters back home are into. While we were not involved in the construction of our home, we have been involved in a few kustom construction projects since and it is amazing to see how the entire community comes together to put one of these things together very similar to a barn raising in the US. The women weave the roof while the men build the posts and walls. After a house is complete everyone shares lap lap (national food, more below) and Kava(local root drink with intoxicating qualities)! housebl.PNG

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Speaking of food, you may wonder what we are eating down here. Out diet is mostly root vegetables in the form of Lap Lap (see below) or Simboro. Lap Lap is grated root vegetable (Taro, yam, Manioc) wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an underground oven with hot stones. After it is topped with hot coconut milk. Simboro is grated root vegetable wrapped in island cabbage and boiled in coconut milk. Occasionally for special events we eat some pork or chicken (See entire chicken in my pot below). Many people in Vanuatu eat fish but my village is too far from the ocean to fish so they have constructed aquaculture ponds. However, we are currently in the dry season so the village does not have enough water to maintain the ponds (See empty pond photo below). The ponds are normally empty for about 4 months of the year limiting the protein intake of the community.food.PNG

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We are hoping to introduce a few more vegetables into the local diet with our garden. We have planted Bell Pepper, tomatoes , carrots, cucumber, pumpkin, eggplant, watermelon, beets, and Chinese cabbage. We worked with our host family to clear some land near their garden (This involved bush knives and fire as seen with a happy Brian below) and then building a nursery. After about two weeks we transplanted everything in the nursery. We should be able to harvest around November/December.

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While we have been spending a significant amount of time learning local language, gardening and integrating with the community. We have also been getting some more official work done. So far this has been going around the community with our counterpart Solomon and conducting a household survey. The survey is helping us to assess the needs of the community and select a project. So far the community has alot of ideas and alot of enthusiasm about getting something started. Our next blog post will discuss the survey results and project options once we finish the survey (Spoiler alert: probably a road and or water project also maybe improved latrines). We should be back in Villa for a small training in October and will hopefully update the blog then. In the meantime, We have been able to use the Whatsapp app at site a little when service is good, so if you would like to contact us on a more regular basis, download whatsapp and message me. There are also significantly more photos on Facebook. Miss you all and we wish you the best of luck with everything going on back in the states. Bongarea!

-Laura and Brian

 

Training on Pele-It takes a Village!

After our initial week of orientation and beginning Bislama classes at a hotel in the capital, we were split into groups and sent to training villages. Peace Corps works with training villages for several reasons. First and most importantly, Peace Corps recognizes that the best people to teach us the language and culture of Vanuatu are native Ni-Vanuatu. Second, it forces us to use the language. Many of the host families in the village know English but they all only speak Bislama to us and help correct whatever we attempt to say. Third,  there are things you can only learn to do in a village like starting a fire with coconut shells or draining the blood from a chicken.

As far as training villages go, we hit the jackpot with Pele Island. Pele Island is a small 2-sq mile volcanic island off the coast of Efate with a population of around 220 people. The Health Education/Water Sanitation volunteers were separated into the three villages and we were sent with 6 other volunteers to the village of Piliura. We were welcomed by the most picturesque beach I could have ever imagined and the warmest community/host family.

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Our host family includes our Mama, Papa, 3 host sisters, 2 host brothers and 2 host nieces. Mama Monique is overwhelmingly kind, thoughtful and the best cook on Pele! Papa Willie and sistet Yasmina both teach at the local primary school. Our other host siblings go to secondary schools on other islands or work away from Pele but come home on some weekends. Below is a photo of the women of our family teaching me to make traditional Simboro which involves wrapping grated manioc in cabbage and boiling it in coconut milk.

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We are in official Peace Corps training classes from 8-5 Monday through Friday learning language, safety/security lessons and technical training. However, during evenings and weekends we learn other skills such as cooking, and local construction from our host family. While I cooked the Simboro shown above, Brian was invited to assist our host papa and brother with a new porch.

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One Saturday, the local children (Pikininis) took us on a hike to the top of mount Pele. Every child, no matter how small, had a bush knife to clear the path, but unfortunately they only clear about the first three feet so there was lots of climbing under branches and ducking under spider webs. Next time, we will bring our own bush knives so we can clear a little higher. It took us about an hour to complete the “20-min hike” on probably the hottest day we had in Vanuatu so far, but the view was well worth it. When we got to the top, all the pikininis started yelling and whistling toward the village and the mamas and papas yelled and whistled back!

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On Sunday nobody works- they don’t even do laundry! Sunday is reserved for god, family, and community. Everyone gets the busy work done on Saturday including gardening and any food prep for sunday that can be done early. Before church, the mamas taught us volunteers to make traditional banana laplap which is cooked for several hours over a fire and under hot stones. Similar to Simboro it involves a grated starch, cabbage, and coconut milk. Laplap can be topped with fish, chicken or bat and our laplap was topped with chicken. After church all the host families came together and we ate the laplap together. Our host mama wanted us to look our best for church so she let Brian and I borrow matching island clothing and Bislama Bibles.

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We definitely had a full, enriching, and whirlwind time on Pele. Unfortunately, it was cut short by the threat of Cyclone Donna. We were learning about some of the health issues we may see in our final sites when the trainers got an email that boats would be on Pele for an immediate evacuation in less than an hour. We had 1 hour to walk back to our homes, pack up our bags, and say goodbye to the host families who have come to mean so much to us in such a little time. We hope the cyclone will pass soon so we will have a chance to see them again before moving on to our next site. In the meantime we are back at a hotel in the capital.

Staging and Pre-Service Training-Part 1

Hello Family and Friends! We have been blessed with some internet for the moment so we thought it was a good time to let y’all know what we have been up to since we left for Staging on April 14th.

Staging is a 1.5 day event that occurs in the United States. It serves a few purposes. Most importantly it provides a 36 hour buffer to make sure that everyone gets to Los Angeles on time to leave the country all as one group. It also provides a time for going over Peace Corps policies and expectations to ensure that everyone is on board before leaving the country. It was hard to leave our families at home but it was great to meet the 38 new people we would be serving with in Vanuatu (Even if we wont ever see some of them again after Pre-Service training). Below is a photo from staging of us with our new support network of fellow volunteers.

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Getting to Vanuatu– We loaded up on a us at 5:30 pm Saturday California Time to head to LAX. When we got there it was too early to check in for our flight so we grabbed some food and sat on our bags for a while before checking in and heading through security. Our plane left at 11:30 pm and it was an 11 hour flight to our 8 hour layover in Fiji, except that our 8 hour layover became an 11 hour layover. Lucky for us Peace Corps Fiji-office decided to help us out by arranging a shuttle for us from the airport to a location we could take showers and change while we waited a whole day for our flight to Vanuatu. Eventually we got back to the airport in Fiji and boarded the plane for our new home where we were greeted warmly by the peace corps staff with Coconuts, Lei’s and Lava-Lava’s (Sarongs).

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Pre-Service Training– The next morning we officially started our pre-service training which is a boot camp of cultural, linguistic, and technical classes. Most of this training will be completed on a site similar to sites that volunteers will be living on, however, because the original starting location was deemed unsafe due to cyclone damage, we were set up in the swanky Holiday Inn Resort for the first three days. This place is AMAZING and definitely not the typical Peace Corps experience.

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Although we are at the resort and have air conditioning, Internet, and amazing food; we are still here to train and are in sessions all day starting at 8:00 am. So far our lessons have included lots of Bislama language training, boat safety, malaria testing, and the cultural importance of Kava.

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Tomorrow we will be moving to a small island off the coast of Efate where we will be continuing our culture/language training and beginning our technical training. In the new training village we will be living with a temporary host family and will no longer have any connection to the internet or phone service for at least the next three months. Looking forward to updating you at the end of July! -Laura and Brian

 

New Site Placement-Ambae!

We are in the airport now and about to take off for our Peace Corps adventure! It’s been a long few days of training but we will get some good sleep on the plane and completely miss Easter Day with crossing the date line. It’s a long couple of flights but we’ve got some good people around us.

Flexibility is a big portion of Peace Corps service and we are getting our first lesson in that already. Our site placement has already shifted and we will learn more about the placement in the future. It is on the island of Ambae (crater lake in the center of the island and island location in the chain below) so we are shifting from the south part of the island chain to the north portion. We’ll be out of communication for a while but we learn more about our location and our specific role during this time.

They are starting to load the plane so we love you all and enjoy your next two years in the US!

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Site Placement!-Erromango

We are excited to announce that we have received a specific site placement. After three months of training in Vanuatu we will be living on Erromango, specifically in the community of Port Narvin. Erromango is largely unpopulated and undeveloped. The island’s main source of income is sandalwood (the season runs from June to August each year), supplemented by lobsters and coconut crabs. Port Narvin was severely damaged by Cyclone Pam in 2015 (as seen in the Google Maps photo below upper-right). After a couple years it has mostly recovered. The village is one of the largest on the eastern side (500 + Population). People come from different parts of Erromango and the village is divided into 3 boundaries  each managed by a chief.

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The site is a Category 4, which means it is one of the most remote sites in the Peace Corps classification system. There are no roads to the village and it is a 7-8 hour hike to the nearest village. The community does not have electricity but there are rain collection tanks and other sources of water. We will also have access to a 3g cell network and will be able to charge our phone using solar power!   The community leaders have requested volunteers to help with Health Education and Water/Sanitation development. Beyond that very broad project description, we will not know exactly what we will be doing until we are in the community. Below is a picture of the host family we will be living with. This is all the information we have at the moment, but we will make sure to update you as more becomes available.

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Vanuatu….what’s that?

Hey Friends and Family! If you are reading this, it means you know that we have accepted an invitation to serve with the Peace Corps in Vanuatu. If you are like us at the time of our appointment, you may not know much about Vanuatu. Below is an overview of our home for the next two years. We should find out exactly where in the country we will be living in the coming weeks and our next post will include that and more info about our job description. Vanuatu-map

History -Vanuatu is an independent republic consisting of 83 islands in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It is located about 3,500 miles southeast of Hawaii and about 1,500 miles northeast of Australia. The capital and largest city is Port Vila, located on the island of Efaté. From the late 19th century until it gained independence in 1980, Vanuatu was governed jointly by France and Great Britain. Archaeological and linguistic evidence supports the commonly held theory that people speaking Austronesian languages first came to the islands about 4,000 years ago.  The first island in the Vanuatu group to be visited by Europeans was Espiritu Santo when, in 1606, Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandez de Queiros spied what he thought was a southern continent.  The majority of Vanuatu’s population (78.5 percent) lives in isolated rural areas. The two urban centers have rapidly increased in size, with 15.7 percent of the population residing in Port Vila and 5.8 percent in Luganville. Port Vila, a small but cosmopolitan capital city, contrasts sharply with the rest of the country, with an economy that caters to a significant number of tourists and foreign residents.

Government– In 1906, after years of strife in colonizing Vanuatu, Britain and France developed a unique compromise agreement to jointly administer the islands. Called the British-French Condominium, it provided two completely separate governmental systems, one for English-speaking settlers and one for the French, that came together only in joint court. Melanesians were barred from acquiring citizenship of either power. In effect, this dual system divided NiVanuatu, and aspects of the system remain (e.g., the existence of both English and French educational systems), even though the country now has its own democratic system.van_flag

Economy- Vanuatu’s economy is based primarily on subsistence or small-scale agriculture, which provides a living for 65 percent of the population. Agricultural exports (copra, beef, and cocoa), offshore financial services, and tourism are other mainstays of the economy. Tax revenues come mainly from import duties. Mineral deposits are negligible, and the country has no known petroleum deposits. A small light-industry sector caters to the local market. Economic development is hindered by Vanuatu’s poor transportation infrastructure, dependence on relatively few commodity exports, and vulnerability to natural disasters and by the long distances from main markets and between constituent islands.

People and Culture– The people of the archipelago, who number about 240,000 as estimated from the 2009 census, are known as NiVanuatu. The indigenous population is predominantly Melanesian, with a small number of communities that have a shared Polynesian/Melanesian ancestry. Small numbers of French, British, Australians, New Zealanders, Vietnamese, and Chinese also reside on the islands. The islands are rugged and isolated, and have some forested peaks several thousand feet high. Vanuatu’s land area, scattered over 65 inhabited islands, is about the size of Connecticut, but it is dispersed across an expanse of the equatorial Pacific equivalent to California. The consequent pattern of small settlements with limited outside contact fostered the development of well over 100 distinct Melanesian languages. The most common language, a pidgin known as Bislama, is the language of national unity.  Most people are Christians, with the predominant denominations being Anglican, Presbyterian, Seventh-Day Adventist, and Roman Catholic. Many professed Christians also practice some indigenous religious kastom and some Ni-Vanuatu adhere solely to the traditional animist beliefs.vanuatu-people