Rich’s Family Comes to Visit - Part 2 (Rich)
…The trip back though was not a good one. The sea was rough and it took nearly four hours to reach Magam, half of which was done in the dark. It’s always a slightly surreal experience arriving at night and would have been especially for Mum and Dad, as they were met by a cluster of torches bobbing in the darkness, with no indication of who was behind them. By the light of the torches their bags were unloaded and carried away and we trekked up to the road and then on to our little house. No rest for the weary, as dinner was getting cold, everyone had to quickly wash and head up to Rich’s family’s house for dinner.
It was only when we all got up to the house, illuminated now by generator-powered globes, that Mum and Dad were able to see who was behind the torches. My Ambrym family were waiting for us and we all took our places on the floor. We had a nice meal of rice, chicken, yam and of course lap lap and my Australian family was officially welcomed by my Ambrym family. After an hour of Carmen and I translating conversations back and forth and with the kids asleep in the corner, we took our cue to head down to our house for a well deserved nights sleep.
On Sunday, as per usual we went to church. Carmen had a wide selection of island dresses for Mum to choose from and unfortunately she steered clear of Carmen’s highlighter green number and went with a more subtle blue dress. With Tom, Dad and Mum now decked out with their floral outfits we all climbed in the back of the Ute and headed to church. Mum and Dad received another special welcome from my Papa (also the Pastor) and we were treated to quite a lively service filled with singing and praising, with a bit of fire and brimstone preaching thrown in.
Their stay here was only short and we tried to cram in as much as we could but the most memorable moments were meals. I suppose this is not surprising, given the importance of food on special occasions. In addition to the first meal with my family, we had a wonderful meal with Carmen’s family. They had gone to the trouble of setting a table, with bowls of food spread on the table as you would find in Australia. They had also killed a pig especially for this meal, which in Vanuatu is a big deal – something reserved for important ceremonies or events.
The other food-related event was the final meal that we shared on Monday night with my full extended family in Magam. Much lap lap was prepared and eaten and both of my Papa’s made speeches. I think Mum and Dad were really awed by how warmly they were received by everyone.
Another event worth mentioning is our visit to the school. We wanted to show Mum, in particular, the school not only because she is a teacher but also because we wanted to hold a fundraiser in Australia, possibly with Mum’s help. We had a tour of the school’s dilapidated facilities with the headmistress and then Mum led the combined 1 and 2 class in a spirited round of ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’.
The trip back to the airport made up for the last one – great weather, calm seas and even a dolphin and turtle sighting – a rare occurrence. For the first time ever the plane was early and we all piled in to head back to Vila for a bit of a holiday.
I Don’t Think we are in Kansas Anymore (Carmen)
There are many things which make living in Ambrym different to life in the city, all those constant reminders that we are far from home.
In Sydney it is the alarm clock that wakes you up. On Ambrym roosters start at 3am and continue till morning.
In Australia if you saw a man walking down the road with a shotgun, you would hide behind the curtains, sneak peaks as you watch him stroll down the street and hope that someone has called the police. Here, we say good morning and ask where he is going.
In Sydney if you want meat the butcher is only a short drive away. Here when a coconut tree falls and kills a cow then we get to eat meat.
In Sydney ‘doing the washing’ involves putting the clothes in the machine and pushing a button. Here it is a 3 hour event involving a bowl, scrubbing board and brush.
In Sydney when you are considering what to cook for dinner you open the fridge, cupboard and maybe even a cookbook. On Ambrym you walk outside and look at the veggie patch for inspiration.
In Sydney having a cup of coffee may involve a percolator or a plunger. Here it is a kettle and a hanky used to strain the coffee granules (Vanuatu has great local organic coffee).
On Ambrym if Rich wants a haircut there is no need to make an appointment or drive to a hairdresser as he is directed to sit on a stool behind our house where I discover that for my first attempt at haircutting it looks pretty good.
In Sydney when you can’t find what you want at Woolies you head across the shopping centre and try Coles. Here when the village stores run out of flour, we wait for the next cargo boat to arrive.
To get to work in Sydney you usually drive, catch the train or if you’re feeling particularly industrious you ride a bike or walk. Our ‘office’ is the same place we eat breakfast so our commute is instantaneous.
On Ambrym, kids don’t play with Lego, dolls or Nintendo but can play for hours with a knife as long as their arm, make long arrows to throw at trees and are inseparable from their home made sling-shots.
Our Families (Carmen)
At our welcome ceremony four months ago we were officially adopted into families. We met our host family the night before and they adopted Rich, and I met my Mama and Papa as my adoption was being announced. The ceremony went by in a blur of Bislama and it has taken till now to really understand the significance of what happened.
Rich for the first time has a bigger family then me with a grandfather who we call oldfella Abu, Papa Obed, Mama Rosie and five siblings; Esline (19), Angela and Bong (18), Mali (15 – who goes to school on another island) and Nelson (6). At the moment they also have two cousins living with them so they can attend the local school; Lydia (11) and Albert (6). I on the other hand have a family of five; Papa Andrew, Mama Marie and three siblings; Bong (10), Shamila (8) and Steven (3).
At first it was a little strange to be told, ‘this is your family’. A little like those arranged marriages where you don’t meet your new husband or wife until you’re standing at the alter. It took us a while to find our place in our new families especially when there are lots of customs that govern relationships here. For example Rich’s Papa rarely talks directly to me and for reasons unknown I’m not allowed to touch Rich’s Mamas hair, though the situation has yet to arise. Rich doesn’t escape from adhering to custom either and isn’t allowed to sit too close to my papa or in a higher position than him.
Family relationships are very complicated and complex and too hard to try to explain here as it would require many lengthy paragraphs and probably a diagram or two. Nevertheless our relationships with our families are very important. We live within meters of Rich’s family who have been given the responsibility to keep us safe. Most of the time we consider ourselves lucky to have a family watching over us, someone to answer our questions and explain what’s happening. But it also has its pitfalls and sometimes I feel like I am 14 again; everyone wanting to know where you are going, what you are doing and when you will be home (obviously before its dark). We don’t get off much easier with my family either; if Rich’s family decides we aren’t allowed to do something then my mama and papa usually agree and within a day the whole village knows and also agrees that we shouldn’t do whatever we had planned.
However, it is rare that we get ‘barred’ from something and we both get along well with our families. I spend a lot of time with Rich’s mama, who is a shy women who giggles when she is embarrassed but who has taught me the essentials of island living; husking, scratching and milking coconuts, making lap lap, gutting chickens, fish and crabs, weaving baskets and digging yams. Usually it is Rich’s mama who gives me the good gossip, like the man who has one wife on Santo and another in Vila. When we sit down to cook or while we work in the garden I ask her about all the things that I have been pondering.
I wouldn’t say that I have friends here, but then again no one has friends on Ambrym, you have family, lots and lots of family. So when I want a good laugh I go and find Rich’s sisters Angela and Esline. Since they are 18 and 19 years old we spend a lot of time talking about boys, making fun of each other and generally enjoying ourselves. Angela is the one who fills me in on the young people gossip; who’s in trouble, who got fined by the chief etc. Without Angela and Esline I would laugh less.
Shamila, my sister comes over sometimes just to hang out, play cards and talk about things that 8 years olds like to talk about. We once had a long conversation about apples, as she had never had an apple and wanted to know all about it; since then I have bought her one from Vila. Shamila still thinks Rich is a bit scary, I don’t think the beard helps, but now will happily chat to him.
Steven my 3 year old brother was at first very scared of me and cried every time I came over but that has passed and he is now excited when I come to visit. The one thing that stops us from becoming best buddies, apart from the fact that he is 3, is that he only speaks Ambrym language, a completely different and very difficult language that I am yet to master. So until then I will be happy with him calling out my name instead of falling into a crying heap when he sees me.
My brother Bong is what they call a ‘strong head’ which basically means he doesn’t always do what he is told to do. Because he is 10 years old he spends all his time either at school or going fishing, hunting or hanging out with all the other teenage boys who seem to.. well I don’t know what they do, I suspect a whole heap of nothing.
My Mama and Papa are absolutely lovely. When we go to Vila they call and check to make sure we have arrived and are ok, if they haven’t heard from us in a week they call again. Although I don’t spend as much time with them as I do with Rich’s Mama I really enjoy popping in for a chat.
There are other women in the village who I spend time chatting to while at ceremonies, church or other gatherings and a handful who I particularly enjoy spending time with. If you have noticed an absence of the mention of men then you would have hit on something – there are no men, except my papa who I spent time with. Daily chores / life are divided and there are many ‘taboos’ about male-female relationships so I spend almost no time talking to men; it is a little bit like attending an all girls school with the all boys school next door – I know men are around, I see them everywhere but they rarely speak to me and I rarely speak too them.
Rich on the other hand spends half his time in the men’s camp (not a literal camp) doing men’s things and the other half talking to the women in his family and those in the council. Rich spends a lot of time with oldfela Abu who is his grandfather, a respected old chief and most importantly a gem of a man. He loves to talk and is always ready to tell a story. If you ask Abu a question and he doesn’t know the answer he will always tell a story tenuously linked to what you have asked.
Rich’s papa is a business man who gets things done. He owns one of the two working utes in our region, owns one of the villages stores and built our house which will be turned into a guest house when we leave. He is a man who is used to everything being done his way, no questions asked and Rich has found this difficult at times. But as the head of our family he looks after us; he built the fence for our garden, looks after our garden and dog while we are in Vila and if we need anything at all he is our first port of call.
On the islands there is no separation of work and family life, public and private. Our families are central to our life here, they are connected to everything we do and because of them our experience is richer and more enjoyable.