Ok, so the second blog entry for ‘Island Home’ has finally arrived, even though we have been in Vanuatu now for two weeks now. Sincere apologies for this lack of commitment, but it has been a somewhat hectic time.
Our blog was put up in a bit of a hurry with little explanation about what it was all about, so I feel it is necessary to explain a little exactly what we’re doing here… Carmen and I are spending a year in Vanuatu doing development work. I have a job as a Community Development Officer with a grassroots community council while Carmen is coming along for the ride and will most likely work as a volunteer in various areas. We will be living and working in the North of Ambrym Island, a medium-sized island in about the middle of the Vanuatu island chain.
Our group together with Lou (our in country contact) and George (Bislama Teacher)
My job is a very broad one. The council is a group of elders (all women - very unusual) who have responsibility for community issues in 32 villages in North Ambrym. Their job is to develop this area. My job is to develop the council. What does that mean? Good question. Essentially I need to improve the skills of the council to run their affairs as effectively as they can, and ensure that when I leave they can do it for themselves. The other thing to mention is that North Ambrym is very remote (a good day’s travel from anywhere) and we will be living in a village with no electricity or running water - should be a challenge! But since many of you know all this stuff already, we’ll move on!
The first thing to talk about is the weather - it is so hot. Although I was expecting it, the humidity was just so intense. The best way I can describe it is if you imagine walking into a bathroom where somebody has just had a hot shower. You know how the air is thick and wet and you feel like you can’t quite breathe as well? That’s what it’s like here all the time! It’s the wet season here now and the name is appropriate. If you’re not wet from the humidity and your own sweat, you’re wet because you just got rained on. But I am getting used to it, slowly, and the weather will cool down as the dry season comes along.
The first week of our time here was orientation - getting to know the town, safety and security, cultural considerations etc - as well as daily Bislama lessons. Bislama is a type of pigeon English and is the national language of Vanuatu. Vanuatu is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, with over 100 languages across all the islands, so Bislama developed as a way for all ni-Vanuatu to communicate with each other. Many ni-Vans also speak French or English, which reflects Vanuatu’s colonial history, so Bislama also crosses boundaries between these two groups. It’s a cool language to learn and speak - kind of like English but without all the tricky rules!
Learning sand drawing during our orientation 'Race around Vila'
Port Vila itself is a funny little town. ‘Little’ is the operative word really - it doesn’t take you long to walk through the centre of town, and it’s hard to walk around town without bumping into someone you know - which is quite amazing since we have only been here two weeks and don’t know that many people! Despite the beauty of its surrounds, Port Vila itself is not much to look at - potholed roads, dilapidated buildings etc, but Vanuatu is a developing country, so I suppose that’s to be expected. Anyway, I want to talk a little more about Vila, but that might have to wait for a later time.
We have just arrived back from a one week village stay, which was an interesting experience, but I don’t have time to write about it now! We are busily preparing to depart for Ambrym tomorrow - buying things that we need (food, pots and pans etc) and getting things organised. Hopefully I will have time to catch up with the entries soon!
Rich and Carm