Land Diving on Pentecost Island

This past month I got a chance to check out the ancient tradition of land diving.  It is the original bungee jumping only the men (no women) make the tower and cord out of local materials.  They also dig up the dirt below so it is soft when they hit the ground with their heads!  This is a custom to celebrate the yam harvest.

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Quick trip to Kakula Island

Kakula Island

During my last trip in Vila (March) I had the opportunity to go stay on Kakula Island.  This is a small Island off the north of the main Island Efate.  The plans had been to build a major resort with $30,000 a night rooms however the investors ran out of money partway through.  Only the staff quarters with 5 rooms were finished as well as a partially finished palace and huge tree house.  I went with some expats here and stayed the night in the staff quarters.  It has really beautiful beaches and was fun to stay on a deserted island.

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Camps and Workshops

Girls at Camp GLOW TOT


The Roast

I had the opportunity to take 4 our people from my village to attend a training of trainers leadership camp on the island of Ambae put on by the Peace Corps Gender and Development Committee.  The Camp was 5 days filled with sessions such as leadership and public speaking skills, team building, and adolescent reproductive health, as well as plenty of games, arts and crafts and fun activities.  The boys and girls really enjoyed this opportunity and it was fun to see their confidence and communication grow over the days.  The only real glitch in the camp was rough sea that delayed our 9 hour speed boat trip and pushed the camp back a day.  Let me tell you, I enjoy boating but 9 hours over rough waters and open seas is not ideal.    

Marie Therese, VHW from my village, and Evelyne, VHW from the neighboring village

Village Health Workers who attended the PEPFAR Workshop

After CAMP Build/Glow TOT myself and the other health volunteers heading straight to Vila to participate in a HIV/AIDS training funded by PEPFAR.  Peace Corps brought in almost 20 Village Health Workers from across the islands to train them on the basics of HIV/AIDS.  I was lucky because both VHWs I work with back on my island were invited to the workshop.  While Vanuatu’s health system is build upon the VHWs and Aid Post, the training they receive is very limited.  This workshop gave the VHWs an opportunity to learn about HIV/AIDS as well as learn how to present this information to the community and run awareness workshops.  The Peace Corps volunteers were there to act as facilitators and to give the VHWs feedback and advice.

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Water tanks don’t just fall from the sky

Blog post from March 5


Today was the 4th and final day of the PHAST workshop I held in my village.  Since arriving here the locals have talked about their need for a new water supply system.  Currently my village has a communal water supply which means they have to carry water back to their houses for washing, cooking, drinking, etc.   This also means that they often just take bucket showers next to the water tank with their clothes on (not sure how you can get a real good scrub down with your clothes on though.)  A household water supply system has the potential to greatly improve the hygiene and health of the community.  The thing is new water supply systems don’t just fall from the sky.  Nor do I think there is anyone who will just wander up to the village and say “hey just thought you guys might like a new water system.”    While this might seem obvious to any of us on the outside, my village seems to be a bit misguided.  

The aim of the PHAST workshop was to use sets of drawings focused on water, sanitation, diarrheal disease and behavior change.  This workshop is modeled on a participatory approach, which means the facilitator (me) tries to bite their tongue and let the community discuss issues and reach their own conclusions.  The final day is focused on how to achieve specific goals to improve water and sanitation in the village.

While the workshop wasn’t quite as successful as I hoped, there was some good that came out of it.  The community decided to build 9 community VIP toilets and encourage all households to replace their bush toilets with VIP toilets. Now the real challenge comes in getting people to actually follow through with their plans. 


The thing about my village is there is a real lack of accountability. This culture isn’t big into following through with commitments.  And well, since I’m not real big into people who aren’t accountable….it can be very frustrating.  Especially since the community would rather sweep something under the rug…I mean bamboo floor….than confront another person about an issue.  For instance, one day the chief skipped the water committee meeting (of which he is a member) to stay at home and watch movies.  No one really said much to him about it…that is except me.  (Still working on cultural assimilation.)  I let him know a piece of my mind and told him that as the chief he should be setting a good example for the committee.    Did I get a response?  Not really.  But he did mention to the priest and committee chairman that he couldn’t really say anything back to me because he knew I was right. Ha!   But then he failed to attend any of the 4 day PHAST workshop.  So did I help the situation at all?  Perhaps not.

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Update from Vila

So I’ve been back in Vila for the past 3 weeks for Phase 2 of my pre-service training.  Things are going really well these days.  Over the initial “I live in a tiny village with nothing to do” feeling and now excited about all the projects I want to start.  Training was chocked full of speakers, resources, and information.  We are on information overload these days with too much to read, too many errands to run, too many things to do online, and a social scene that is always calling. 

The thing about being a Peace Corps volunteer is you wear many different hats.  For instance, I’m a mentor/assistant to the Village Health Worker, member of the Aid Post Committee, community health educator, community workshop facilitator, grant writer, and health, nutrition, and environmental science teacher at the primary school.  I’m also a french student, English tutor, pet owner, daughter, sister, and soon to be auntie.  And a struggling basketweaver, a chicken hater, a cow chaser, a gardner, a novice cook, and a want-to-be fisherman.  Check out my work in the village page to learn more about my work!

I extended my stay in Vila a week after training because there was too much to do in just two weeks.  Then my stay got extended even more due to lost wallet (found the following day at the restaurant I’d been at the afternoon before) and then a delayed flight by the airlines.  In addition to getting more work done here at the Peace Corps office I’ve made the best of the extra wweek socially as well.  I went diving on Monday which was great fun and I say many fish including a very friendly blowfish, a ship wreck, and lots more.  I got to go diving last Wednesday as well with another volunteer who works on reef conservation here.  We went diving at night to catch crown of thorns…which are bad and kill the reefs.  We pried them off the reefs with metal rods and put them in bags to bring ashore and kill.  I only got seven myself but still felt rewarding knowing I helped protect the reef!  Then I went to a kava fundraiser last night for the men’s soccer team which is trying to go to the Olympics.  My last adventure in Vila this time around is to go to Kakula Island (nearby) with some other foreigners in town.  It’s apparently beautiful there!  I’m heading out in an hour for a quick overnight trip and then back to the airport tomorrow morning. 

More random stories….

Ship time

We went to the warf yesterday to put our bags on the ship headed to Pentecost since we can only take a small amount of weight on the plane.  I had way too much stuff, tons of books and resources, two smokeless stoves, 6 English dictionaries, and food items.  One of the other volunteers there befriended the guys working on the ship and asked them to look out for our stuff (always a good idea).  The all seems to remember my name from the time I took the Tina 1 to Vila-that’s what happens when you are the only white girl on the ship.  The told Lucas they were sorry I wouldn’t be riding back on the ship this time.  We also saw a bunch of white packages being loaded on the ship.  It turns out they are mosquito bednets which the WHO will be distributing.  Very exciting!  Hopefully I can help with the distribution of these. 

Chasing Cows

I became the laughing stock of my village one day for chasing cows.  One cow which was not tied up with a rope came walking through my yard and trampled on my garden.  I was really mad about it.  Apparently the cow belongs to the church committee and they don’t have a rope.  Well I had had enough of this cow so I took an extra rope of mine and chased the cow, hoping to catch it and tie it up.  I was running down the hill after the cow; but no one helped. All the villagers just stood up by the church laughing at me.  I felt like Anne on Anne of Green Gables (Mom and sister, you know what scene I’m talking about).  Well sadly I didn’t catch the cow.  It ran towards another cow which was tied up.  The other cow’s rope was slack and just as I tried to run over the top of the rope it moved, making the rope taught.  I tripped over the rope tumbling down the hill.  Feeling defeated, and continuing to be laughed at, I gave up and walked back to my house.  I guess I just have to build a fence around my garden because that makes so much better sense then buying a rope (church committee) and tying up the cow.

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When the bank runs out of money

A few weeks ago I went with the Head School Teacher to the bank.  However, to get to the bank is no small feat.  We have to walk down the big, slippery hill about 40 minutes and then catch a boat about an hour to Pangi.  Now granted it could be much worse, but for most people in the village putting money in the bank is just not practical.  It’s an all day affair and an expense just to get there (it’s about $37 for me to charter the boat so I prefer to go on teacher pay day to split the cost). 

When we arrived in Pangi we were informed that the bank was out of money.  I had been told earlier in the week that the bank was out of money but that more money was coming on the Wednesday morning flight….so this was not good news seeing as though it was Friday.  After telling us this the man said that Manuel, the boat driver, had just come to deposit money so we should try and get behind him and then we may get lucky and be able to withdraw some.  So we walked up to the bank and saw that Manuel was indeed in line. 

Teacher: You go first; I’ll go right after you

Manuel: No, she (pointing to the women nearby) has to go after me

Teacher: OK I’ll be next then

Manuel: Oh you save (know)

We were trying to be discrete since we didn’t want everyone trying to get before us and take all the cash.  The thing is, every pay day all the teachers go to the bank and withdraw their entire pay checks.  Unfortunately for us some other teachers were already in line and by the time it was our turn there was no money left to withdraw. 

So we waited…which seems to be a common occurrence at banks in general, but especially at the Pangi branch.  I really have no idea how it can take as long as it does when there are only a few people in front of you, but it always does.

 But we were in luck that day and only after about an hour and a half of waiting outside the bank we saw a man walk in with a plastic bag full of cash.  He must have been a storekeeper from one of the three stores in the village.  Shortly thereafter they called us in (me, the head teacher, and another volunteer Megan who had also arrived).  They did indeed have money for us-but there was just one problem-they didn’t have quite enough.  Since Megan and the teacher were trying to withdraw far more than me they had to battle it out.  In the end, we all left the bank with some money.  Megan and I just laughed at the situation and determined its best to call ahead and make sure the bank has money before making the trek across the island to withdraw funds.

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Random Stories

So, a few weeks ago I found out that I have a “daughter”…didn’t realize I had one of those!  On my way to the airport in South Pentecost my family and I ran into the daughter of my namesake.  My custom name is Bengku; I’m named after an auntie who lives in the next village.  My mama introduced me and the daughter seemed really excited to meet me.  She said that since Bengku is her mommy and since I’m named after her I’m also her mommy.  So she kept singing out “Mommy” to me.  To make it even more comical she is older than me.  Family connections are everything here and while it seems odd to an American, it’s normal in Ni-Van culture to have a family connection to practically everyone.  I’ve just never been called Mommy before, and wasn’t quite ready for that one. 

The other month I got scolded by my mother for leaving my bush knife outside in the yard.  She said  “my girl (which is how she addresses me) Auntie told me you left your bush knife outside for close up one whole day.  What did I tell you about leaving your bush knife outside?  Yes, yes, I realize someone could steal it…just forgot to put it back inside.  But really, if someone is going to steal something, please take my bush knife…there are much worse things I could lose here.  Once again, I haven’t quite reached the level of being considered a full adult in the village.  Maybe sometime-most likely never.

So, my papa doesn’t really know numbers in Bislama or how to do basic math for that matter.  When we play Go Fish he has to show us the card because he doesn’t know the names of the number well enough.   I’m sure he knows numbers in local language, but not all the old people know Bislama so well.  When I was visiting a neighboring village I was chatting with a man about my mamas store.  He said, “when you go to the store and only your papa is there you win money.  When you give him money you get more back than you first gave him.”    

Last time I went to Vila (end of January) I took a boat from Pentecost rather than a flight.  It is considerably cheaper but about 20 hours rather than a 2 hour boat ride and 1 hour plane ride.  Add on the 24 hour wait for the ship to arrive due to engine problems (it’s now currently in the ICU in the Solomon Islands) and it’s not exactly the most efficient use of one’s time.  I was the only one that seemed troubled about the ‘wasted’ time waiting for the ship.  But in all, it wasn’t so bad.  It’s really a cargo ship but they let passengers ride it since there isn’t a passenger ship going from Vila to Pentecost.   Since I was the only foreigner on the ship plenty of people were interested in talking with me…guess I was the most exciting thing on the ship that day.  There was another “white person” on the ship too.  Although a local albino (there seems to be a higher prevalence of albinos here due to intermarriage within and among small villages), not a foreigner.  One man who I was chatting with asked me if the albino was just like white people since she had white skin too.  He was an educated man but really had no idea that albino people here are just like other Ni-Vans, just lack the pigment in their skin.  I tried to explain the concept, although he still told me he was afraid of them.

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