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Barry In Vanuatu

Diary for November

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November 2004
 

MONDAY 1st NOVEMBER

Rich and I went to a wedding. A man in the road mentioned it and it turned out that Chief Cook David was going, so we took the day off school and tagged along.

We arrived just after the actual service, along with about half the island! There must have been about 600 people there. Soon after we got there, it was time for kakae, lots of kakae. A kind of reverse racism works here – because we were white, we got the best cuts of meat along with the 5 just-married couples and the chiefs in attendance. I felt quite uncomfortable about this, especially as I’d already got stuffed on cake that had been forced on me. Ni-Van humour is quite strange, they were all in hysterics when someone mentioned how Kirk’s (the Peace Corps guy) name was similar to cake. Hmmmmmmm.

Singing was next up, with three different community groups of about 25 each. People ran around the singers covering them in washing up liquid and soap – a local custom I was told.

There was kastom dancing later on, which was really good. I wanted to see some at some point while in Vanuatu but thought I’d have to pay for it sometime while traveling. It was good because the dancing would have happened whether I was there or not, it wasn’t something put on for me. The dance consisted of traditionally dressed men bouncing up and down to a drum and any guests who wanted to could link arms in twos and run around the edge. I had a go, running with Job, the chief of a local village I hung around with most of the day. Most of the time I was trying desperately to hold my shorts up. Maybe there is some truth in what the kava-drinkers were saying last night.

TUESDAY 2nd NOVEMBER

Another long staff meeting took place today, swallowing up the last two lessons. The end of term dates were reconfirmed and there were debates as to whether an assistant boarding master should be employed to help Mr Steven in the evenings and if the dorms should be closed during the day to stop pupils going back to them during lessons. I also found out that there will be a house party (as in Gwyvay house, not in a house) next Tuesday.

Mr Steven started taking some of my Year 7 English lessons today. He’s doing two a week so I can have more time with the Computer girls.

I finally got through to Ranwadi after months of trying in the evening and spoke to Joelle and Zoe. They seem to be getting on alright – Jane has decided to stay an extra two terms, so it can’t be that bad. They’re not speaking much Bislama, students aren’t allowed to on-campus, so maybe I’ll be able to impress them when I go over.

WEDNESDAY 3rd NOVEMBER

There was no Games today because Eckron didn’t turn up. Instead, the kids all watched a DVD in the chapel. Yes, that’s right, the school has a DVD player. A bit out of place, but the kids love films.

Our gas ran out today so we had to cook round Mr Steven’s. It means we will have to be iodinising our water rather than boiling it.

THURSDAY 4th NOVEMBER


In case you were wondering, chemically treated water is disgusting, even with ‘neutralising’ tablets.

The Computer girls helped us cook on the bush kitchen in our back garden today. It’s just a partially-walled shack with an open fire in, usually used to cook lap lap. Our pans were veeeeery black afterwards.

I found out today that Mr Stephen, Agriculture teacher, has never studied his subject in his life. He just teaches out of textbooks and finds it difficult to mark mock exams because he doesn’t know the answers himself. What chance have the kids got?

FRIDAY 5th NOVEMBER

Rich went to the North today with one of the Year 9 students, Mica, so I had to set some cover work for his lessons.

A new gas canister arrived today, so our pans needn’t get so carbon-coated in future.

I managed to break a sandal, leaving me effectively shoeless. My main pair of sandals went missing when left out to dry on the fundraising and my trainers are still utterly caked in mud from Manaro. Oh well, the kids hardly ever wear shoes (but then the soles of their feet are rock solid).

I started teaching PowerPoint to the Computer girls and ended up with a crowd of teachers and Year 9 and 10 pupils gawping in amazement as words and pictures flew across the screen to clapping and whoosh sounds.

There was another sing-sing entertainment evening later on. I just stayed for the refreshments.

SATURDAY 6th NOVEMBER

Annie Rose (a Year 7 girl who lives in the Principal’s house) came to take my bedding to wash in the morning. Finally, fresh sheets!

I played basketball most of the morning and then a few boys came round in the afternoon to talk, listen to my Discman and devour all my Scotch Fingers biscuits. One of them even liked 30FootFall! Probably just because it’s different. How much Texan punk music do they get over here?

In the evening, there was a video night. The DVD (yes that’s right, Londua has a DVD player) was Dragonslayer. It was fairly crap, but still enjoyable as I haven’t watched TV since leaving England. The chapel was crammed full of kids watching, who all laughed at random points. A dragon breathes fire on someone. Ha ha ha ha ha ha! The picture changes to a man driving a truck. They’re rolling around the floor in laughter. Weird.

In the end, Annie Rose didn’t return my bedding. Luckily, I had been left with one mattress in the house to sleep on.

SUNDAY 7th NOVEMBER

Annie Rose got it wrong. She was meant to take the whiteman’s bedding. The whiteman being Steve, apparently we’re not.

Rich came back from the North today. It’s a lot more kastom up there because they have less contact with outsiders. Rich was the first white man some of the children had seen. The road was apparently very steep, so it was a good job shoeless me decided not to go.

MONDAY 8th NOVEMBER

I don’t have an entry for today, so I’ll describe the daily routine instead, just for posterity.

I wake up around 7:00. The students have by then been up and about for 1 hours, doing 45 minutes study and the same length of time doing work party (picking up litter, cutting grass etc). The bread for breakfast (baked the day before) arrives around 6:30, but Rich nearly always has to get it because I don’t wake up at the knock on the door. Breakfast is always peanut butter on bread, because it’s the only spread you get over here. Jerome did give me some pawpaw jam, but its gone alcoholic somehow. When do you use yeast in making jam?

Lessons start at 7:45, preceded by a 15-minute Devotion church service, although this usually runs 10-20 minutes into the Lesson 1. Each lesson is an hour long (it was 45 minutes at the start of term) with Period 2 coming directly after the first. A 15-minute break starts at 9:45, followed by the third and fourth lessons. Lunch starts at 12:00 and last 1 hours. We generally either finish the bread from breakfast, cook noodles or go to the restaurant at Navitora (meals for 50p).

There are two more lessons in the afternoon, followed by an hours’ work party, during which I usually mark books and plan lessons. Free time starts at 4:30, when I usually play basketball or some students come round to listen to music and talk. I have a shower or swim in the sea at 5:30 and then cook tea, always rice based. We get rice, flour and noodles free from the school stores and the equivalent of 50 pounds to buy the rest of our food.

During and after dinner, students come round for help with anything they don’t understand – it’s their study time. In the evenings I mark books, plan lessons, read or go down to the office and help the Computer girls. When Miss Lyn was their main teacher, around 2 would come to the office in the evenings and play solitaire. Now that I’ve taken over, over half of them regularly come down to practice things me and Rich have taught them.

TUESDAY 9th NOVEMBER

There were no lessons today – it was a public holiday to allow for voting in the provincial elections. In the day, the students were all preparing food for the ‘house party’ in the evening. Gwyvay used the Year 10 classroom for their party. Well, party is stretching it a little bit, it was just a short ceremony for the leavers (me and some Year 10s) followed by a massive kakae. During the ceremony, I was presented with a handmade bag of the type all the locals wear and then had to make an impromptu speech in Bislama (quite scary, especially as I was unsuccessfully trying to hold back tears at the time).

WEDNESDAY 10th NOVEMBER

There were no Games once again this week – how did we ever come 3rd in the PISSA Games? – we had Fridays afternoons’ lessons instead.

I have now finished my Maths’ syllabuses and am just revising for the exam next week.

In the evening, me and Rich went with Graham to a 100 Day Kakae at Nelson’s house. This is an event that takes place 100 days after someone’s death, in this case Nelson’s mother. It was a 100 Day Kakae we went to at Lo-one the time we got the enormous joint of pork.

There wasn’t much food but there was a particularly strong brew of kava. Once again, I felt no effects, despite drinking the same amount as Rich, who’s head was still spinning the next morning.

FRIDAY 12th NOVEMBER

It was my last day of teaching at Londua today. Not that 8academic thought that this was very special – only 5 of them turned up.

A strange package arrived with our bread in the morning. It had come on a ship and turned out to be from Pat and Martin for Rich’s birthday (on the 22nd), containing a card, some coffee (very rare here), a couple of chocolates and some party poppers. We found out later that the Paama guys had tried to phone us when we were out on Wednesday, probably to tell us not to open the parcel until the 22nd.

SATURDAY 13th NOVEMBER
 
Once again, there were few students about this weekend due to the lack of water, making for a somewhat boring day.
 
Me and Rich tried to learn how to knock down coconuts down using a bamboo pole, so that we wouldn't have to ask the boys to continually risk their lives climbing trees to get us drinks. We weren't very successful, the only thing that came down was the said implement onto my head.
 
SUNDAY 14th NOVEMBER
 
Rich finally found one of his bars of soap today, half eaten by Roland the rat. So far, Roland has stolen 3 of Rich's bars of soaps, but none of mine. I don't know if that says good or bad things about me.
 
We went to Silber's house for lunch today. He used to run the Loosman (it is rented out on month-long contracts by Kenneth) and had invited us round to his house at the 100-day-kakae last Wednesday. Rich and I were the first white people his 3-year-old has seen, which was pretty cool.
 
On the way back home, we stopped at Navitora to say hello to Keith and Shirley Ladgator, an Australian couple who ran Londua during the '60s, who had arrived earlier in the day. They were a stereotypical old Aussie twosome, straight out of Neighbours. They're here for Graduation tomorrow.
 
MONDAY 15th NOVEMBER
 
It was Londua Technical College's Graduation ceremony today, for the Year 10 leavers. Around 250 people crammed into the chapel to sing songs and listen to speeches by the Principal, Keith and one of the Year 10s (who's speech I had corrected last night and struggled over the pronounciation of some of the longer words, whoops). As always, I was an Invited Guest, along with local dignitaries and Peace Corps Kirk (who's sole job seems to be going to various functions as a VIP). After the service, there was an emotional handshaking ceremony, with all the Year 10s breaking down in tears.
 
A Peace Corps named Erica arrived today. She was a middle-aged black woman, and so confused me by speaking in an American accent, "Where did a Ni-Van pick up a Yankee inflection?" She's going to be running the new Year 11 course at Londua next year.

TUESDAY 18th NOVEMBER

 

It was the busiest day I had had in Vanuatu today. It started with assessments in Office programs for the Computer Girls, which took up most of the morning. When the girls didn’t need direct supervision, I continued making exams for my Year 7s and 8s for tomorrow.

 

Lunch was at Navitora restaurant to save valuable time cooking, and I returned to finish off the exams. The Ladgators came back around 3:00 (they're doing talks around Ambae for the next 2 weeks) and I helped them make a birthday phonecall to their granddaughter. They then cornered me for a long conversation. Wow, you come from Canterbury and there’s a Canterbury Road in Melbourne. Amazing! Yes, quite.

 

Before I knew it, the generator was back on and the Computer Girls were filing back in to finish their assessments. I nipped back to make dinner, rice in curry sauce, and soon after Mr Rolland came round with a cooked bat, which made tea more interesting. Belden, a Year 8 Academic pupil, then came round for some help with Maths. I left him for a few minutes while I finished off the meal, but a few seconds later Kelesy, a Computer Girl, knocked on the door to tell me I had a phone call. I left Kelesy with the frying pan and some instructions and legged it to the phone. It was a long call about traveling plans after the placement from Martin and Pat. During this, I had to help Shirley mend the printer, which Graham had managed to fit the wrong type of ink cartridge into. Just as I was saying my goodbyes, Kelesy came back with the food. I tucked in. And burnt my mouth, Kelesy had never used chilli powder before and had poured in half a packet. Ouch. Luckily the flying fox had not been touched by the sauce and was quite tasty, a bit like fish in fact. I stayed around in the office for about half an hour, supervising the assessments, then took the dirty dishes back to the house. Where I found Belden, who had been patiently waiting for an hour for revision help.

 

WEDNESDAY 17th NOVEMBER

 

It was the start of the exam period today, and by a stroke of Bonnington’s timetabling genius, I had 3 exams at the same time. I rushed around starting the tests up, leaving a couple of Computer Girls and Mr Nelson to supervise 2 of them. Year 8 Vocational were exceedingly annoying, 2 students who had not been to a single lesson turned up for the Maths exam, leaving me a couple of papers short and forced me to do a frantic photocopying session. The scores of these two students? 2% and 9%. Oh dear.

 

In the evening, Rich and I completed the Computer Girls assessments and then caught a truck to Lombangahaki (I am truly in the back of the beyond), where there was a fundraising. We were shown around the massive Anglican church there, the only two-storied building I had seen on Ambae. It could fit about 1000 people inside, but I doubt there are that many Anglicans on Ambae. The walls were lined with hornets’ nests, which must make for some painful services.

 

At the fundraising I drank a shell of kava and then danced to a string band, and then felt a bit sick. I do not know whether the former is related to the latter. There wasn’t a truck going back, so we had to walk for about 40 minutes back to Londua, accompanied by Merilyn, one of the Computer Girls who had also been at the fundraising.

 

THURSDAY 18th NOVEMBER

 

My last exam was in the first session, and afterwards I got down to some marking.

 

I finally managed to pick up World Service today after months of trying. I only listened to it for a few minutes, though, there was only so much I wanted to know about grassroots football organizations in rural China.

 

Dinner was at Mr Stephen’s, as thanks for buying him some curry powder (with a nudge, nudge, wink, wink). He’s got two large sound systems and a 50w amplifier in his house. The amp and one of the stereos belong to other people, who bought them and then realized they didn’t have electricity and so couldn’t use them. Oh dear.

 

 

FRIDAY 19th NOVEMBER

It was quite an emotional day today with lots of
students leaving. Lunch was the official end of term
and so all the Ambae students went home.

I finished marking the exams today - beat that
turnaround Edexel! Loads of kids came round to the
house to find out their scores before setting off. THe
best moment was when Will, a first year who puts in
loads of effeort but never does very well, found out
he was fourth overall in the class in English, Maths
and Science - he was over the moon.

There was a video night for those still at school, but
it was the school's French rap DVD, so I gave it a
miss. Instead I lent Mr Stephen some of my CDs and
watched in disbelief as he airguitared around the room
to Social Distortion. Beats francophone hiphop any
day.

SATURDAY 20th NOVEMBER

Rich, me and Mr Stephen went to Lo-one sandbeach. The
water was very rough and I didn't fancy a dip, but
Rich braved the churning waters and nearly got snashed
against rocks for his effort. Afterwards, we stopped
at the primary school where a 10-day-kakae was in
progress. We ate lunch but couldn't stay for kava,
we'd already been invited to the Losman.

Our favourite kava bar had changed a lot from the last
time we'd been. There's now no spitting on the floor
rule, so you have to hoick out the windows instead. It
has also been neatened up, redecorated and the layout
rearranged. It's truly tragic, I will forever mourn
the old dive it used to be. I can't remember if I have
mentioned Kenneth yet on this website, but he is the
crippled owner of the Losman who can't walk without
crutches. Anyway, he got us to take a load of photos
and asked us to send them back when we developed them
in England, gave us a few shells on the house and made
a little speech-giving ceremony, thanking us for being
'gudfela customers,' despite the fact we'd only been
about 6 times.

SUNDAY 21st NOVEMBER

I spent most of the day writing reports. I've got to
get them finished for the 24th, when I leave, and must
do 80 subject teacher ones as well as 40 class
teachers'.

The only kids left around now are the 15 or so doing a
two week computer course run by a Santo-based company
at Londua and a few waiting for ships.

There was a pitiful bout of rain in the afternoon, the
first precipitation in about 2 months. Our rainwater
tank is almost empty, it's difficult to get even half
a bucketfull out. There are going to be major problems
in West Ambae if it doesn't rain soon - lucky I'm
leaving in a couple of days.

MONDAY 22nd NOVEMBER

It was Rich's birthday today and my (not really that)
grand plans all fell apart. Martin and Pat had put a
bottle of their home brew that I was going to give as
a present on the Sarafenua, but this had not been
dropped off the last time the ship passed Londua - the
crew probably found out what it was. I had also asked
all my classes to sign a group birthday card, but only
the Year 7 boys had been organised enough to hand it
in by the end of term.

Still, we had a little staff party, which doubled as
our leaving doo, with lots of cake and present giving.
I got my third island bag and a decorative mat saying
"Barry Maydom Londua School 2004," remarkably with no
spelling errors.

We went to Lo-one for kava in the evening. Tonight, it
was made the kastom way, ground with a stone instead
of minced by a machine, so it was a very strong brew.
Still no effects to report, however, maybe other
islands kava will be better.

TUESDAY 23rd NOVEMBER

I awoke today with a stinking head cold. My thinking
is that it is either the extra-stong kava last night
or some incurable tropical disease. My head was
pounding and my nose running like an Olympic sprinter.

I dragged myself to Ndui Ndui in the morning to post
home a load of presents and 2 of my island bags.
Jimmy, who runs the post office, had already left for
the airport and so I left my package and some money
with the Vanair agent, who’s office is next door.

Finishing reports, packing bags and tidying the house
filled the rest of my day. Rich went for kava at
Lo-one again in the evening, but I didn’t feel up to
it. The Sarafenua should be coming to take us to
Pentecost in the early hours of tomorrow morning

WEDNESDAY 24th NOVEMBER

 

I was woken at 3AM, when the Sarafenua could first be seen on the horizon. A fire was lit to attract the ship but we had to wait a couple of hours for it to reach Londua. It did a 360o spin while a little speedboat came out to dump cargo and take us, which I didn’t think was very fuel efficient, but then my nautical knowledge is very limited.

 

I was quite sad to watch Londua fade away into the distance, although this was masked by tiredness (I was up late packing last night) and my tropical malady, which has grown worse since yesterday.

 

The Sarafenua was hardly the little rustbucket I was expecting. It is only 8 months old and is one of the largest ships in Vanuatu’s domestic fleet. It carries both passengers (a lot of them) and cargo and stops at every fire that is lit, doing its 360o extreme maneuvering every time.

 

 We had been told that the journey to Bwatnapni, where Kate and Franki had been teaching and where Rich is getting off, would take around 10 hours, arriving at Ranwadi, my stop, a couple of hours after. By nightfall we were still on the coast of Maewo, however, so it looks like we’ll get to Pentecost tomorrow afternoon. Luckily, meals are provided, although you don’t have much time to eat them, the dining area seats 6 and the passenger complement must be around 150.

 

While there were quite a few passengers, there was enough room to lie down across the seats, which is exactly what I did, and slept comfortably until the morning.

 

THURSDAY 25th NOVEMBER

 

In the end, the journey to Ranwadi took 36 hours, only 3 times longer than expected. For some reason only the captain knows, we dropped anchor overnight in Maewo, adding 10 hours or so to the voyage.

 

Rich disembarked at Bwatnapni and, a few hours after, I was hopping onto the little speedboat which took me to Ranwadi school, home for the past three months to Joelle, Jane and Zoe, although the latter is back home already, and for the last few days to the Paama guys. I was met on the (white sand!) beach by Jane and Pat, my arrival not being important enough to interrupt Martin and Joelle’s afternoon kips (Zoe’s back in England already). We walked up to the school, which seems like a 5-star resort compared to Londua. J and J’s house has running water, a shower, decent lights in every room, even an internal flushing loo! It took a while to remember to flush after using the toilet, I hadn’t done it for so long. The school itself it very neat and tidy, with classrooms that don’t look as if they’re about to blow away with the next gust of wind, and concrete roads. Ranwadi is also a lot bigger than Londua; it has over double the number of students and goes up to Year 12.

 

After dumping my stuff and saying my hellos, I went swimming with Martin and Pat. The beach wasn’t as amazing as my earlier exclamation mark suggests, but it was good to wash off after a day and a half on the boat.

 

FRIDAY 26th NOVEMBER

 

I went down to Waterfall village, about 20 minutes down from Ranwadi, with Martin and Pat today. The village’s namesake was spectacular, water dropping around 120ft into a deep plunge pool, of which there is another just downstream, evidence of a geologically recent retreat.

 

In any other country, this would be a major tourist attraction, but as it was, we were the only people messing around in the pools and there’s no evidence of regular visits to it. It’s probably better this way, nature never looks as nice after commercial exploitation, but you’d think the villagers could make some money from it. Saying that, if it was in England, you wouldn’t be able to swim anywhere near the actual cascades, and your view would no doubt we obstructed by a safety fence and signs informing you as to the dangers of stepping beyond this point. There’d be stalls selling cans of coke, which would end up in the water, and T-Shirts saying “I Went To Waterfall Village And Guess What I Saw There.” No entry fee would be levied, but a 5 pound “donation” would be mandatory for all visitors, for the upkeep of the fences, of course.

 

The waterfall was about 5 minutes away from the village proper, where I met Rennes from Year 7 and found a much-sought-after pair of sandals.

 

It was three months to the day since we left England, so we let off Martin’s remaining party poppers in celebration.

 

SATURDAY 27th NOVEMBER

 

My brand-new sandals broke today, halfway through a 1 hour trek to the village of Baravat, the nearest market to Ranwadi, with Jane, Martin and Pat. On the way, we passed a truly massive couple of banyan trees that must have been 150ft tall. When we reached our destination, Londuan Deddy, from Year 9, gave me a pair of flip-flops, so the walk back was a bit more comfortable.

 

Pentecost looks very different from Ambae. There are more open spaces, the planting of palm trees is neatly ordered, the roads are semi-decent, the beaches are white and plentiful and there are actually rivers. We forded 5 waterways to get to Baravat, West Ambae can only boast 2 dried up beds.

 

SUNDAY 28th NOVEMBER

 

We all awoke early for the long slog to Bwatnapni to meet Kate, Franki and Rich. We set off at 6:00 and reached the town of Melsisi an hour later. Melsisi is massive compared to any of the villages on Ambae, with 2-storey buildings, 7 or 8 shops and an immense Catholic Church capable of holding 2000 worshippers. Apparently, many Catholics on Pentecost have second homes in the town that they sleep in on Saturday nights having walked all day to get there, only to return after the Sunday service.

 

After Melsisi, there was a soul-destroying huge hill to surmount that seemed to go on forever. We met a lot of people going the other direction, on the way to church. At the top of the hill, we chanced upon a coconut stand, where I drank my first coconut since leaving Ambae. Most of the palm trees here on Pentecost are in copra plantations, so there aren’t many coconuts to drink. The man at the stall told us it was an hour along a flat road to get to Bwatnapni.

 

Three hours later, having climbed and descended innumerable hills along a decidedly unflat road, we arrived. All the GAPs are back together again (apart from Zoe), and we all had lunch at Chief Allan’s, the deputy chief of the village. Eating with us was a surprisingly likeable Peace Corps called Ben, who also taught at the school. After lunch, we all went for a swim in the river. We went downstream for about an hour to a very nice spot with a high ledge for jumping in off. On the way back, I managed to break a pair of flip-flops I'd borrowed off Martin. My luck with footwear does not seem to be very good, this is the 5th pair I've lost or destroyed so far.

 

On our return, Martin, Pat and I were shown to the school guesthouse. Jane and Joelle are staying in the GAP's house, while Rich sleeps in Ben's. The guesthouse is gaudily painted and infested with rats, the latter owing to school stores, which are located below. On the plus side, it is right next to the school kava bar.

 

In the evening, we drank kava, ate dinner at Chief Allan's and then danced the night away with the Bwatnapni students, in aid of what I'm not entirely sure.

MONDAY 29TH NOVEMBER 

We were supposed to catch a truck back down to Ranwadi in the morning, but naturally it didn’t turn up. Martin, Pat and Jane used the time to thoroughly clean the disgusting kitchen while Kate and Franki packed their bags and I did, um, sod all. I did try to start the immense pile of washing up, but Martin was using the only cleaning implement to scrub the gas stove.

The truck finally arrived mid-afternoon, after we’d had lunch with Chief Allan and Ben. Ben accompanied us down to Ranwadi; he’s getting a plane tomorrow. As we rolled out, all the students surrounded the truck to wave off Kate and Franki. It was all very moving and then Pat, standing up at the front of the truck, managed to get taken out by a low-hanging branch, lowering the tone of the moment.

As the Ranwadi GAP’s house is too small for all of us, the guys are sleeping in the library. It might not be as comfortable as a bed, but at least there aren’t as many massive cockroaches roaming around.

TUESDAY 30th NOVEMBER

Didn’t do much today, just lazed around in paradise (hell, the toilet flushes). Ben left for the airport in the morning, while the non-Ranwadi GAPs took a trip to the waterfall.

In the evening, we were all invited to Fellowship, a weekly gathering of Ranwadi staff to pray, sing, make announcements and eat lots. The MC (Ni-Vans use it in the literal sense) for the day was an hilariously camp teacher called Jeffry. Joelle and Jane’s assessment of his craziness was correct and it was difficult to listen to him without bursting out laughing.

My cold has all but cleared up now, although I did realize in the evening that I hadn’t sat down on a toilet since Ambae. That can’t be good.