The Foxy Family Have Landed (Carmen)
The lead up to my family visiting was less then reassuring. Recent earthquakes and tsunamis in the Pacific left my Mum and Grandma concerned and Dad, with his adventurous streak, frankly excited. A week before they were to arrive we received a tsunami warning; luckily we live on high ground, the seas stayed calm and within a few hours it was cancelled. Fortunately, things seemed to settle down just in time for their visit.
Almost everything in Vanuatu runs late and planes are no exception. So when a tiny eight-seater plane landed early, I assumed it was a charted flight for those who were willing to get into what looked like a large remote-controlled toy plane. To my surprise, through the windows I saw Mum, Dad and Grandma’s smiling faces. It had been a bumpy ride and they were glad to have landed safely on Ambrym. They exchanged the tiny plane for the back of a ute and then a small open boat. The trip back North always seems much faster; with lots to catch up on the trip seemed to fly by.
After getting settled in and receiving the tour of our house, kitchen and toilet, we got ready to join Rich’s family for dinner. Rich’s Papa gave a traditional welcome and after the prayer we all began to eat. Our dinner conversations are always led by Rich’s Papa who started by asking Grandma how old she was. Grandma replied ‘71 years old’. ‘Ah’, Rich’s Papa said, ‘very old’. Rich’s Papa continued, ‘do you have teeth?’ ‘Yes’ said Grandma, smiling and tapping a tooth to prove that they were real. ‘Ah… very nice’ he replied. This was the first of many conversations that Grandma would have about her age. The usual reply after discovering her age was ‘ah, very old’ followed quickly by ‘you still walk, very strong’. Everyone seemed to be very impressed that she could still walk and had her own teeth. Their innocent inquiry and surprised reactions make more sense when you realise that the general life expectancy is only 69 years old. With Grandma far from death’s door and fit enough to come to Ambrym and easily walk around the surrounding villages, she was a talking point.
Mum, Dad and Grandma were quickly introduced to Ambrym custom, with a pig killing ceremony in their honour. It’s a bit complicated to explain, but basically the ceremony was a demonstration of reciprocal relationships between two families. Following custom rules the pig was bought by Rich and his Papa to be given to my Australian Dad and my Ambrym Papa. Unfortunately it was a girl pig which meant that I was the one that was customarily supposed to kill the pig. However pig killing wasn’t something I felt I needed to add to my résumé and I was allowed to symbolically tap it on the head with a stick. Both Dad and Papa held the rope connected to the pig to symbolise that the pig was to be given to them and Rich’s Papa did the killing. Not one part of the pig is wasted; the tongue, liver and ears are roasted over the fire and after the intestines are washed out in the sea the kids fight over who gets to fry them. We spent the rest of the day preparing the pig for dinner.
A must-do activity on Ambrym is a visit to the garden, an inadequate term for a veggie patch the size a football field. It was a good time to go as the new garden had just been established and the old garden was nearing its end. Dad in particular wanted to know how they manage their gardens to ensure they always had enough food and luckily Papa was keen to show him around. My Ambrym Papa was amazed at all the questions Dad asked and laughed at all the details he noticed. People here traditionally learn by watching, so Papa had to quickly figure out how to explain things to Dad who wanted to know how everything worked. On the other side of the garden is a coconut plantation and Papa climbed the coconut tree to cut down some green coconuts to drink while we all relaxed in the shade. After collecting firewood and some oranges we headed back to the village for banana laplap.
It wasn’t long before our stay in the North came to an end. Dad was keen to climb the volcano but the path from the North was closed to ensure the success of the yam harvest. So we headed to South Ambrym where the path was still open and the Rich and Dad could climb the volcano. Mum, Grandma and I opted for a more relaxing day spent at the hot springs. The hot springs are right on the beach and at low tide the large rock pools turn into baths of warm water. Whilst we were relaxing in the sun, Rich and Dad had climbed Mt Marum and Lavale and amongst the smoke had seen rolling lava. We had afternoon tea with another Australian volunteer living in West Ambrym and headed back to our guest house to wait for the boys, who arrived home just in time for dinner.
Arriving in Vila meant sleep-ins (till 7am), breakfast prepared for us, our washing waiting folded on our beds and a wonderful choice of food to eat, an immediate change from life on Ambrym. We were determined to relax and even through we went to the Mele Cascades, snorkelled at Hideaway Island and went sailing around Vila Bay we still got to read and relax and chat. After six days in Vila we waved sad goodbyes to Mum, Dad and Grandma.
International Day of Rural Women (Rich)
During the Fox family visit we weren’t able to leave work behind completely. As part of my work with the Council we had helped to organise a big celebration day for International Day of Rural Women (October 15), a UN day designed to support women living in rural areas. As we are most certainly rural, and we work mainly with women, we thought it a good day to celebrate.
Fortuitously we were able to combine it with the opening of the Council’s new office space (really just a room, but an office nonetheless!). So the day was a big day for Lonali Council and for women in general. We had a big march, led by a banner that we had made with heaps of women’s hands painted on it. We had speeches, the opening and dedication of the office, free food for everyone, games and health check-ups for women. And probably the biggest draw was 400 and something bras which had been donated from Australia (thanks Sharon!) which we sold at very cheap prices as a fundraiser for the Council. Not only did the Council make money, but the women were ecstatic about getting their hands on good-quality, cheap bras, rather than the rubbish they usually have access to.
The day was massive, with probably 200 plus people attending (big for here!) and was a huge success for the Council. It was the first time they had organised an event like this and the first time anyone had celebrated this day before. It was such a success that they’re already organising next year. From our perspective, it was hugely satisfying because the event was largely organised by the Council which means that they’re starting to do things by themselves, which is what we’re aiming to promote. And it was great too that so many members of the community came out to support the Council, which means that their reputation as a useful community organisation is growing. And finally, it was great that Carmen’s family were able to be there to meet the Council and see firsthand some of the results of our work here.