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Barry In Vanuatu

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No power once again for my computing class – I’m running out of things to teach them on the board.

There were no lessons this afternoon because the students were helping with the preparations for the World Teachers’ Day fundraiser once again. It seems as if it's going to be quite big, 500 people are expected.


Went for a day at the beach today with Mr Steven and family and a couple of students. We packed up a picnic (inevitably containing rice) and went down to the black sand beach at Lo-one, a 30-minute walk. While the beach was far from the massive swathe of golden sand usually associated with tropical islands, it was still a fun day out, playing frisbee and football and swinging on ropes and jumping into the sea. Ambae is a volcanic island, so the coast is all black sand and rocks. Oh well, I’ll get to see plenty of nice beaches travelling afterwards.


Rich and I went with Graham to drink kava at Lo-one Primary School today. It was a ceremony to celebrate the start of construction of 3 new classrooms. According to the Peace Corps guys here, there’s going to be a population explosion on Ambae in the next 10 or so years (not surprising as families with 9 or 10 kids aren’t uncommon), which accounts for all the building going on everywhere.

Once again I felt few effects of the kava after 5 shells, although Richard was out of it with the same amount. Maybe, I’ll have to start drinking more…


It was the long-awaited World Teachers’ Day (has anyone heard of that back home?) fundraiser today. Loads of people came and there were competitions in football, volleyball and petanque. I helped with the football tournament and baking katos – kind of like doughnuts in figure-of-8 shapes

In the evening, the stage built by the basketball court was used for local community groups to do songs and skeedjes (dances to music). Money was raised by only allowing the next act to go on after the audience had donated a certain amount of money and also by allowing people to do random things to performers for a fee of 10vt (5p). This started off with mundane things like tipping buckets of water over their heads and ended up with Mr Nelson bundling one terrified singer into a wheelbarrow and racing off half way around the campus!

Graham had hired some amps so it was all quite professional. Except when the stage collapsed under the first act. And when the generator suddenly cut out, plunging everyone into darkness.


The second day of the fundraising was much the same as the first, with one very pleasing difference – there was ice cream! Graham had it flown in from Santo especially. I had nothing much to do so hopped on a random truck with some students that I thought was doing the ice cream run. Instead, it picked up a generator from Marie’s house and took it to another random house. Oh well, it took up some time and I tasted one of the first mangos of the season, which was delicious. Ambae gets them before other islands, apparently.

The evening entertainment was less crazy. Mr Stephen started it with an announcement asking people to not take performers too far away from the stage (they might get lost in the dark) or tip water over them (they’ve already had a wash today). To make up for this, there was a random keyboardist who couldn’t play who ruined an otherwise very good solo act and tended to hit some notes while announcements were being made, seemingly oblivious to what was going on around him.


There were no lessons today – Graham gave the day off for the school to recover from the fundraising. It was one of the few days without a Devotion in the morning, very good because I was supposed to lead it.

It rained for about 20 hours straight, the first precipitation we’ve had in weeks. Useful too, our rainwater tanks had been getting a bit low.
Me and Rich went to Lo-one again for more kava today. Well, actually, we went to take a bowl they'd given us with rice in last time back, but ended up staying for kava. I vomited after 4 shells. I was told this was because I'd eaten some coconut (to wash my mouth out, kava has a disgusting taste) too quickly after drinking a shell. I hope this is the reason and I'm not allergic or something.
We got another massive meal when we left. After we had already cooked back home. This is becoming a disturbingly common occurence.


Steve from GAP Australia arrived today. He's staying with us for two nights to check how we’re doing and trying to set up some new placements at some local primary schools. GAP are sending Aussies from next year so need more schools to take GAPpers. Me, Rich and Graham took the truck down to Walaha airfield to pick up Steve, who arrived without his luggage. It accidentally got unloaded at Vila when the plane stopped for an emergency refueling. He’s going to pick it up when he goes back, so must wear the same clothes for 3 days. Oh well, I doubt he’ll end up smelling worse than Rich and me. He did have a letter from Kate and Franki in his hand luggage, though, which was nice to read. We’ll try and phone them soon, now we know they made it to Bwatnapne.

In the afternoon, we took Steve to Ambore (the wharf) with some students. It was raining, as it had been all day. Steve hasn’t had a day of sunshine in Vanuatu yet. He can’t have all the luck, a job that pays him to visit a tropical paradise for 2 weeks and sun. That would be stretching it too far.

We went with Steve to the Loosman in the evening. On the way, we managed to get lost in the bush, which wasn’t too impressive. Nelson was at the bar, so after 2 shells we went back to his house. I puked up again, to which Robinson said “That’s good, now you can fit in more kava.”


The rain continued throughout the day today. Our rainwater tank is full to bursting. It’ll no doubt clear up as soon as rainman Steve goes.

Me, Rich and Steve played frisbee with the kids in the morning, followed by a plate of noodles for lunch. Steve’s getting the wrong impression of what we eat over here, we rarely have the luxury of noodles. It’s normally, rice, rice and more bl**dy rice.

In the afternoon, Rich retired with a headache, leaving Steve and I to go to Lo-one Primary School to try and set up a GAP placement there. The assembled school council did not need much persuading, it was more a question of “When can they start?” We would have stayed for kava, but it was raining cats and dogs and Graham feared that the route home would become impassable. We stayed a while to chat with Belmossun (the headmaster of Lo-one, who Rich and I drink kava with), who came out with the immortal phrase, “We’ve got some heavyweight kava drinkers in this village, Barry, but you are Mike Tyson,” which suitably impressed Steve.


Steve returned to Vila, hopefully to find his luggage waiting, on Monday. Other than that, nothing much of note had happened.

With my Year 7 English class, I started getting the kids to write letters to my old teachers at school today. They’re really enthusiastic about this, some handing in the drafts to me in the evening despite my telling them not to do it for homework!

I phoned Kate and Franki at Bwatnapne in the evening. They seem to be getting on alright and finish later than us on 3rd December, so I should be able to spend a few days over there after the placement. Still can’t get through to Ranwadi.

Steven and Sarah had been promising us curried chicken for ages and they finally delivered, so we went round to theirs for dinner and a good old chinwag. Steven has been promised a top-up of his wages from the government for 2 years but he hasn’t received it yet.


We had to kill Steve the spider today. He’d been living happily in our shower room in an unspoken agreement with us; you don’t go near us and we don’t pull your legs off. But a few days ago he started laying eggs and, while one big spider who you can easily locate is OK, the thought of millions of tiny ones running around while we washed wasn’t very nice. So Rich took a flip-flop to Steve. May he rest in peace.

After school, me, Rich, Mr Steven and Asline (a Year 7 girl) went to Steven’s home village of Saranamondu for a church fundraising. There was sport, kakae and kava in the evening, but unfortunately we couldn’t stay long into the evening as it was an 1 hour walk back. We had a couple of shells with Jerome, who we knew from Lo-one and fixed up with him to go to Lake Manaro the Saturday after next.


Two lessons and half of lunch were taken up by a 2 hour staff meeting today. Of most importance was the moving of the end of term from the 5th to the 23rd of November (damn, less time traveling) in response to the change in dates for the Year 10 external exams. It was also revealed that Marie and Mr Bonnington will be resigning next year.

In the afternoon, I was informed by Miss Lynrose that she it was her last day before going on maternity leave, which meant I would have sole control of the Computing class from Monday. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! After signing up for 2 lessons a week, I now have to take 15, which I don’t have time for taking the Year 7s and 8s as well. Added to this, I have no idea what I’m supposed to teach, but I have been given a hefty folder to look through.

There was an entertainment evening for the students in the evening, which consisted of various pupils organizing play-plays (party games). Rich and I ran musical chairs, me on the guitar and Rich taking away the chairs, which went down well. All the kids thought it was terribly funny for some reason, but then they were in hysterics at the most random things all evening.


Rich and I went for kava at Lo-one again tonight. Loads of people were there for a ceremony that takes place 10 days after someone dies. I think it was some relation of Graham who popped their clogs, but I’m not entirely sure

I felt the effects of the kava for the first time, it was a particularly strong brew due to the circumstances. I just felt a general well-being and my eyes became very sensitive to light.

When we left, we were giving a massive joint of pork for dinner (and probably tomorrow’s breakfast by the size of it). As I passed a pig-sty on the way back from to Londua, I noticed that one of the two usual inhabitants was missing…


After the kava last night, I needed a decent lie in. Fate wouldn’t afford me this, however, Sarah knocked on the door at 6:00 to ask us to cook up some rice for our trip to Saranamondu sand beach today.

It took just over an hour to reach the beach, black sand as ever, but a little larger than Lo-one. We stayed most of the day, swimming and playing football with Steven, his kids and a few students from school. Rich borrowed a canoe at one point and went out about 150 yards before sinking it with his weight. I decided against having a paddle about.

When we left, around 4:00, a man who had been sleeping under a nearby rock since we arrived six hours earlier got up. What a way to spend the day!


I went to Ndui Ndui today and posted the first years’ letters. They only had small denomination stamps at the post office, so my package ended up covered in them.

The market was just closing as I left. They only had one cabbage left, which the person who ran the stall said she had been keeping for herself. She then insisted I take it without payment. The people here are truly the kindest in the world.


More free food was given today. Rich and I went to the restaurant at Navitora (capacity four diners and there are never that many) and got given a cucumber and advice on how to cook it after we said how nice it was in the meal.


I started properly teaching the Computer girls today. I discovered that Lynrose had been doing modules from an INTV (Vanuatu Institute of Technology) business course. I found one on Economics that she hadn’t covered yet, so I started teaching that. At least its something I know! Richard has taken over my practical lessons, which is useful, although the theory ones are nowhere near as fun.

Pat and Martin phoned in the evening. I had phoned them on Saturday but the call cut out for no apparent reason while I was talking. The telephones out here are very temperamental. Pat reduced me to a hopeless fit of laughter by suddenly saying “Oh shit Martin, is that our house?! What were we cooking? Hold on a minute, Barry, we may just have burnt down our house. Is it OK, Martin? Oh, phew, it’s next door.”


An early night was needed today for the 3AM start to Manaro tomorrow morning. I wasn’t to be, however, there was another entertainment evening. This week it was just songs and a Bible-reading competition (which was as fun as it sounds).

Loads of kids want to come with us to the crater lakes tomorrow. Tangisi from Year 8ACC scared me by apologizing for not coming because he was not fit enough; all the kids here are at least as fit as me and Rich put together!


I really should have brought hiking boots with me. Kirk, the Peace Corps guy, said that the trek to Lake Manaro was ‘punishing’ and for once he was right.

In the end 31 students accompanied me, Rich, Jerome, Nesta (Jerome’s wife) and Jerome’s brother. We started off from Londua at 4:00 and started the route from Saranamondu at 5:30. The trail consisted of 4 big hills and then an up-and-down ‘flat’ through cloud forest – very slippery. The fastest students reached the lake at 9:30, I got there at 2:00, in the last group with Jerome and Nesta. The view of the lake was fantastic – it was eerily green and had seven submerged islands within. All the trees around were dead, a result of the sulphur in the water, which also accounted for the colour of the lake. I didn’t actually go down to the lake itself; it was a steep descent from the viewing point and it wasn’t very good for swimming anyway – you can’t get the sulphurous water in your eyes.

The return journey was no less difficult, especially as it was a race against the sun. Jerome said that there was a bushman house where we could stay the night at the top of hill number 1, the first and biggest of them, and that we should reach there before nightfall if we got to the mid-way point around 4:15. At 5:30, we got to the mid-way point and had half an hour of light left. Darkness descended swiftly. Luckily, I had a torch with me so we started using that…for 5 minutes before the batteries died. My camera batteries had also been flat since taking a few pictures of Manaro. So, we were stuck in the middle of the bush in almost total darkness, miles from anywhere. We decided to spend the night under a tree rather than struggle on in the dark, which was an experience. It was probably uncomfortable, but I didn’t notice, I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow (rucksack).


We started off again at first light. I tried to take a picture of the place I slept, turning the camera on and clicking the button before the batteries failed, but to no avail. It took us about an hour and a half to get to the Bushman house, where we stopped and drank coconuts that Nesta knocked out of a tree with a bamboo pole. After another hour, we got to Jerome’s house where I crashed out on a mattress on the ground.

Rich was there when I woke up, he had spent the night in Jerome’s brother’s house. We stayed at Jerome's for about 2 hours, playing the guitar and eating pineapples and pawpaw from Jerome’s garden.

Back at Londua, I couldn’t do much other than rest. I tried to have a swim in the sea to wash off, but there was a storm swell, so I was confined to the rock pools.


There must be a God – Graham gave the day off today to mark some obscure celebration, giving me a chance to recover from the Manaro trek. I went to Ndui Ndui to find out how much it would cost to fly to Paama to see Pat and Martin. There were no direct flights from Ambae, so it would have been 100 pounds (there’s no pound sign on this keyboard!) return. That’s out of the question then.

The students have to pay 4000Vt altogether for the guides (me and Rich paid 2000Vt each). We offered to pay for any students who did our washing for us. Two girls offered, so my mud-sodden clothes might actually get vaguely clean.

Rich managed to slice his foot open on the basketball court, so had to go to the clinic at Ndui Ndui. He now sports a massive bandage over his toes.


Jerome came round in the morning and gave us some pineapples (yum yum) from his garden. He had come to Londua to use the phone, which was unfortunately out of order. The whole telecommunications system of Ambae has been down for a few days now.

The school started having hour-long lessons instead of 45-minute ones, which is quite annoying. I have almost finished my Maths syllabuses and am rapidly running out of ideas in English.


It was the PISSA Games Victory Kakae today. The PISSA games were a Penama province-wide sporting competition that Londua came 3rd in last term. Kakae is food or to eat in Bislama, and in this case meant feast.

There were no lessons after periods 1 and 2; the students were always helping with the preparations for the evening. Which included the cleaning of a freshly killed pig – nice, but the kids over here are refreshingly unsqueamish, unlike back home.

The Kakae was preceded by a medal ceremony (in which all the collectees were very embarrassed and took ages to come up) and an emotional address by Graham (he had to be brought a towel mid-way through to wipe away the tears). After the (delicious) food, there was dancing, with music provided by ‘MC Moli.’ I felt I had to embarrass myself on the dance floor when one song was dedicated to “all those who went to Manaro, especially Mr Barry, who spent a night in the bush.” I’ve become a minor celebrity for that round here.


We had Mr Steven and family over for dinner today, returning the favour of a few weeks ago. I had to rush off after the meal to give a typing assessment to the Computer girl. I had been thinking of putting their typing speeds on their end of year certificates which I’ve got to produce, but the highest I recorded was 10wpm, so maybe I won’t. They all type properly, looking up at the monitor with their fingers in the right places but, despite all the practice they do in the evenings, they are very slow.


We went for kava at the Loosman again tonight, stopping at Nelson’s house as usual. There’s a track leading from his house straight to the kava bar. Nelson’s family were busy preparing for a feast that will take place a certain amount of time after the death of one of Nelson’s relatives. They were still pleased to see us despite the occasion – Ni-Vans always love having a white man to talk to.

There had been an argument at the Loosman the night before, apparently over a rude joke. It is traditional over here to hold a reconciliation ceremony afterwards, which took place tonight. This included lots of speeches, kava drinking and the two opposing parties shaking hands at the end. All customers then got a free round on the house because ownership was changing. Vanuatu gets better by the minute even after 2 months!

I hadn’t been to the bar in a few weeks, and all the regulars I’d seen before remarked that I’d lost weight. I have been noticing my shorts getting a bit looser…

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