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Barry In Vanuatu
Diary for September
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1st SEPTEMBER
 
We had to leave Nguna today. Previous GAP volunteers have stayed for a week but apparently GAP has cut the budget back (without cutting their prices) so we only got to stay for one full day. It was a surprisingly emotional affair (especially Marcel shouting, "Pat! Pat! Pat!" as the truck pulled away out of sight of the village). 
 
On arrival back at the hostel, we went into Vila to buy what we thought was Marcel's CD (it turned out that Pat got his translation wrong and it was actually the CD of a famous Vanuatu string band that Marcel has learnt to play the songs of).
 
In the evening I had half a cheeseburger and chips, which may have been the root of my problems the next day...

2nd SEPTEMBER
 
I woke up at 3am with terrible stomach cramps, rushed to the toilet and pooed liquid. I feel like a true traveller now. At 8am I felt a little better. We went into Vila to get our plane ticket to the schools we will be teaching at.
 
We had lunch (well, I had a few mouthfuls) at the market. The way it works is that woman from around Vila all have a space where they set up a table and benches and their cooking equipment. For 250vt (about 1.25 pounds, no poundsign on this keyboard) you get a massive meal cooked for you. We chatted to some locals in Bislama and felt nothing like tourists, who were nowhere to be seen and payed exorbitant prices for crap food elsewhere (um, like us a few days before).
 
In the afternoon, we met the British High Commissioner to Vanuatu at his home for high tea. It was quite surreal after living in a backpacker hostel and eating in the market. I'll refrain from any personal remarks until I'm well clear of Vanuatu unless this gets read, but the chocolate cake was very good.
 
In the evening we ate at an Italian restaurant (perfect for the tomato-hating me) Pat made us all laugh like children (and made us look stupid in front of the other diners) by telling us of his life. It is impossible to describe how funny he is, and he does it without even trying! My only regret is missing half of it with my repeated sprints to the toilet.
 
We finished the evening with Ben (brother of Len from the hostel) singing us songs in the darkness). I took some Loperamide to prevent a repeat of last night's adventures

3rd SEPTEMBER
 
We killed time in the morning with an oh-so-fun wait at the Immigration Department waiting for visa extensions to allow us to stay for 4 months. We wandered around Vila for a while, having lunch in the market again and then caught the free boat to the resort of Erakor Island to have a swim.
 
In the evening we went to a Chinese restaurant (slightly more expensive than we usually go to as it our last night together). Going back to the hostel, we met 3 English students who arrived at our hostel during he day. They were medical students from Leeds University who had been on a placement over the Summer. It was quite a coincidence just meeting some other Brits in Vanuatu, but it was quite amazing when they turned out that their placement had been at Ndui Ndui clinic (Ndui Ndui being the nearest town to Londua school where I'll be teaching)

4th SEPTEMBER
 
We arrived here on Ambae in a tiny 20-seater Twin Otter plane. I'd never been on such a small plane and it was probably quite fun, but as per usual I was asleep through most of the 2-hour, 4-stop (its like a bus) journey. The girls got off at the first stop on Pentecost. Franki and Kate are staying with the others because their Principal isn't at their school yet.
 
Londua's principal wasn't at school either; we were met at Walhala by Maurice, who turned out later to be the school baker. A 40-minute open-top truck ride (yay) took us to the school. It doesn't look anything like school's in England, its just a collection of temporary-looking buildings on a lovely green, palm-tree lined campus overlooking the sea.
 
Maurice brought us a drink and some stale biscuits before showing us our house. It is probably thr second biggest building on campus (after the Principal's house), with 3 bedrooms, a kitchen, shower room (home to Steven the spider, the shower is a bucket on a rope), toilet room (out of order) and a large living area. The toilet we can use is an outside "bush toilet." Luckily, its not a bush, just a 4' by 4' hut built over a raised hole with a toilet seat on. Our water comes from a rainwater tank fed from the roof. We currently have, no food (except for stale bisquits), no gas, very little water and, most worryingly of all, only a few sheets of bog roll.
 
The rest of the day was spent resting. There's hardly anyone around; no students have arrived yet. For dinner, Maurice took us to a Churches of Christ (who run the school) island-wide conference in Navitora, the nearest (tiny) village to the school. They seem to be happy-clappy type of church, which is fine by me. Religion is easier to swallow with guitars and heartfelt singing.

5th SEPTEMBER
 
I started the day with a cold shower. Very refreshing. We've found a way to strain the water by passing it through a pin-pricked freezer bag. Slow, but better than having dead flies land on you in the shower.
 
Later in the morning, a teacher named Steven called round to introduce himself. He seems affable enough, appearently he used to go fishing with our predecessor GAP teachers. He is the only teacher who lives on site, along with Maurice, David the cook and the Principal. A few minutes after Steven arrived, I felt suddenly dizzy, swayed a little and puked up on the floor. What a way to make an introduction! I'm hoping it was just the heat. Before the sick was cleaned up, the Principal, Graham, arrived with a gas canister and some essential supplies (finally, we can use the toilet!)
 
Richard made dinner, a very mild curry with rice and cocunut milk. Afterwards, I had another bout of sit-sit water (as it is known in Bislama, all s's are pronounced sh), so went back on the Loperamide. We were only brought 1 bogroll, after all.

6th SEPTEMBER
 
Today was supposed to be the first day of term, but only 15 kids (out of 150) have turned up so far. I managed some porridge for breakfast, before breaking the shower. Well, I thought the rope was tied on tight. Rich's and my best efforts couldn't repair, so it looks like its going to be a bucket and a bowl in future. OK, measuring jug and bucket; we don't have any bowls.
 
Graham took us into Ndui Ndui (the nearest large settlement to the school and the commercial centre of West Ambae (its got three shops), but still a tiny village by British standards. In addition to the extreme number of shops (which are all exactly the same, selling the bare essentials and occasionally some random innocuous thing. Like jeans. Who wears jeans in this heat?), there's a bank, a Vanair (domestic airline) office, a post office and a clinic (rather optimistically called a hospital).
 
The remainder of the day was spent lounging around and talking to staff. We are told lessons should start on Wednesday.
 
We had dinner at Graham's house, although it had to be cooked round ours because we had the last gas canister. Graham is very friendly and seems to do a lot for the school. We think he was joking when he asked us whether Harry Potter was a true story or not. We talked late into the night (which means about 9:30 around here). Luckily his English is very good (considering its his 3rd language of 5).

8th SEPTEMBER

School was meant to start today but it has been put back to Monday. Still not enough students.

We met two American Peace Corps in the office, Kirk and Karen. They are on an Education posting, meaning they just go round the schools in the area ‘helping’ them (or using the internet in Londua’s case).

The staff meeting postponed from yesterday took place today. It lasted 2.5 hours in fast Bislama, luckily Richard and I only had to stay for 5 minutes for introductions.I stayed around in the office on the computer (the school has 3 working and one broken, I’m going to have a go at it sometime) and picked up a few of the things that were said in the meeting: the main generator is down so the back-up is in use but only for 3 hours a day, the fate of suspended boys (for drinking kava) was discussed and Mr. Steven expressed concern that too many girls had boyfriends. Things are lot different here.

In the afternoon, I stayed at the house while Richard went swimming and brought back a shellfish to cook and Bill and Davina, two 8-year-old relations of staff here (the former is the chief cook David’s grandson, the latter Steven’s daughter). We had an exchange of card games; we taught them Cheat and they taught us 7-Lock. On a blow-up globe that Richard had, we showed B and D where Vanuatu, America, the UK and Jerusalem (the only places they knew existed) were.

9th SEPTEMBER
 
We went to Ndui Ndui in the morning to find the shops closed. They take 2 1/2 hours off for lunch. Luckily, the market was open so I bought a coconut to drink. Coconuts have 5 stages in their life, the first 3 you can drink the milk from. Very refreshing, especially after the 20 minute walk from the school.

Later in the day, Richard, Bill, Davina, some students and I went swimming in the sea just down from the school. There are very few beaches on the island, the coastline by the school is all rock. Lonely Planet say that the waters around Ambae are all shark-infested, but hey, the locals swim so its probably alright. Strangely, swim in Bislama means both swim and wash (just a random fact I’d thought I’d mention).

10th SEPTEMBER
 
We spent the morning improvising a fishing rod. The rod we had (left by James before us) had already been repaired with duct tape after snapping, and we had to use a shell for a weight and a blown up condom for a float.(probably the only time I'll need one on this trip).
 
Bizarrely, fishing with this strange contraption in the afternoon was not successful, even with some students' help, so its rice and tinned meat once again. Today was tuna, which a cat (again left by James) was very interested in. I wish the cat would try and eat some of the rats scuttling around the ceiling rather than our food.

11th SEPTEMBER
 
The 3rd anniversary of the most important event in modern times without me noticing it much. Its hard to have any worries in the world out here (and I haven't even started drinking kava yet).
 
In the morning, I went down to Ndui Ndui wharf for a swim with Rich and some students. Once, agin, there was no sign of sharks. Have Lonely Planet got their facts right?
 
I resolved to fix the school's buggered computer in the afternoon, but had a good look and couldn't see what was wrong. I'll email Alun (James' partner before us) and see what he thought the problem was. After all, it was he who blew it up.
 
 

12th SEPTEMBER
 
It was Jane's (at Ranwadi) birthday today, We tried to phone throughtout the day, but either their line was always busy or broken so we couldn't get through. We also tried to phone Pat and Martin on Paama, but were informed that they were at the hospital (I think, the conversation was in Bislama). What has Pat gone and done now? I'll try again tomorrow, but it'll look as if we forgot Jane's birthday. Oh well.
 
In the afternoon, we walked towards Loone, the village nearest us on the other side to Ndui Ndui.We stopped at a coconut stall and chatted to the stallholders. In the end we attracted a small crowd of people who were amazed by the Channel Tunnel and ended up staying for 2 hours. Its really good speaking Bislama, although it has to be spoken slowly for me to understand.

13th SEPTEMBER
 
Graham came round while we were having breakfast to inform us that a staff meeting was just about to start and that lessons would start at 1:30 today. Which was great, seeing as we still didn't know what we were meant to be teaching!
 
The meeting was held in Bislama as per usual. Most of the talk seemed to be about reports on students from lasxt term but we also learned that 2 of the 3 suspended last term were so treated for drinking kava on campus. After the meeting, I met Mr Bonnington, the Science teacher and Subject Coordinator, to find out that I'll be teaching English to Year 7, Maths to Years 7 and 8 and Computing in a special class for young poeple from he surrounding area. Between us, Rich and I are responsible for a teaching of all core subjects (English, Maths and Science) to Years 7 and 8. Talk about being needed!
 
Being thrown in the deep end would be a bit of an understatement. I had to take a 45-minute Year 7 Computing class in the afternoon with no plan, no computers and no materials. Aaarrgghh! I struggled through by playing some games to help me remember names (that Teaching Skills course in London did come in handy after all) and found out what they had done with Mr Alun, my predecessor, in the last two terms. All the kids were incredibly shy and it was very difficult to make them speak (the complete opposite of back home, then!) I think its because they are not too confident speaking English.
 
In the evening, two Year 8 students came round to the house to ask for help in their work from Rich. Maybe not all the students are so shy. Bill, Davina and Sharon came round for more card games, but only stayed for a short while because Rich and I had to get on with planning tomorrow's lessons.

14th SEPTEMBER

I woke today to my first full day of lessons, 5 in all, 45 minutes each. I mainly did introductory bits and pieces such as What Do You Want To Know About England?, which were usually met by a wall of silence. Luckily, there seem to be a few confident pupils in each class that ended up being spokesmen for everybody

Mr Steven came round in the evening and eventually got round to asking to borrow my not-Marcel Dausake CD. He is just as shy as the kids: when I told him that I lent it to the Principal so he should ask Graham for it, he became very interested in his feet and muttered “Oh, I don’t know about that.”

15th SEPTEMBER

Ah, my first day of real teaching. No more easy breaking-the ice lessons. I started off with two lessons with the first years, one English and one Maths. In the former, I introduced them to the Iron Man by Ted Hughes, the only set of reading books I could find in the office, and got them all to read a few sentences from the first chapter (veeeeeeeeeeeery quietly). The Maths lesson went better, I introduced the topic of Time. It seems as though Alun, my predecessor, just picked random bits of the syllabus to teach so its up to me to mop up the pieces.

With both Year 8 classes later on, I started the topic of Algebra, the only one I could remember enough of to teach off the top of my head. It looks like I’m going to have to relearn the subject from the few textbooks they’ve got out here.

At break, there was a staff meeting in the office to decide how the school was going to celebrate World Teachers Day (?) on 5th October. Walaha played host to last years’ festivities and this year its Londua’s turn. I got the general gist of what was being discussed, the main debate seemed to be whether those coming should bring their own lap-lap (a local staple made with taro) or whether the school would provide it. David, the chief cook didn’t seem to mind until he found out about 500 people would be turning up.

After lunch was Sports. Students and teachers are all in a house (I’m in Gwaeve) and inter-house competitions in various sports take place every Wednesday afternoon. This week’s sport was basketball, a sport I’ve only played about 3 times in my life. During the first half, Mr Bonnington (the Science teacher) talked me through the rules (in Bislama) and I played in the second half. I wasn’t exactly a super sub; Gwaeve were 6-0 up at half time but ended up losing 18-13.

In the evening we really thought outside the box and had neither rice or tinned meat (our usual meal). Instead, we had noodles and fresh (for the 1st time) meat, bought from the Principal, who occasionally has deliveries. Unfortunately, the meat is stored in his freezer, which only runs when the generator is on. We’ll probably get ill, but hell it tasted good.

16th SEPTEMBER

Yes, I was right, both me and Rich had the shits this morning. No more fresh beef for us.

There were no lessons in the afternoon, Graham called a half-day holiday to mark a festival that took place yesterday. Rich and I took advantage of the break from lessons to go down to Ndui Ndui. The 3 shops there were all closed, but the market was open and we were able to buy a (very oddly shaped and sized) cucumber.

We stopped in Navitora, the tiny village nearest the school, for a coconut and store-an (from the English story-yarn meaning a chat) with the locals. We discovered that Ambore, the wharf, was built by a French copra businessman who lived around here in the 50s.

On arriving back at Londua, we met an American Mormon missionary . His New York accent annoyed me. In need to hear some English voices other than Richard’s. I can’t get World Service over here, in fact the only radio I can get is Radio Australia,.

17th SEPTEMBER

The Year 7’s are usually taught in the school chapel, but I had to take the first two lessons with them in the dining hall because there was a school council meeting in the normal classroom. Half the girls weren’t present, they had been “banished” (internally suspended). There were conflicting reports as to the reasons for this banishment, Mr Steven and Mr Bonnington thought it was because the girls had dared to “have a hairstyle,” while the Principal said it was because they had been caught drinking (kava or alcohol, it wasn’t specified).

Later in the day, I took the two Year 8 classes and Computing. I’m taking two Computing lessons with some post-Year 10 girls from the local area, doing practical lessons on how to use Microsoft Office while their normal teacher, Miss Lynrose, does theory.

18th SEPTEMBER

The morning was spent mostly resting and recuperating from a hard week teaching. A fruitless trip to Ndui Ndui took place before lunch - at least I discovered the market doesn’t open on Saturdays.

In the afternoon me, Rich and some students went to the village of Navatero to watch the Ndui Ndui football team in action. It was the penultimate match of the season so Rich and I won’t be able to follow in the footsteps of James (one of our predecessors) and play for them. The game was surprisingly professional with a referee, two linesmen and even corner flags. Both teams also had full kits, Ndui Ndui playing in the Barcelona strip (in answer to your questions, I have no idea). The final score was 1-1, despite Navitora having the worst keeper the world has ever seen.

After the game, Rich and I looked for a kava bar. We found one but the owner was a Seventh Day Adventist so wouldn’t work on Saturdays. I never thought it would be this difficult to find kava in Vanuatu, I haven't had any since I arrived on Ambae.
 
Instead, we had dinner at a restaurant, which is really just someone’s house that you can go in and they’ll cook for you for 120vt (60p) although they jack it up to 200vt if you don’t tok-tok Bislama (we paid the cheaper rate). It was the nicest meal we’d had in a long time, with fresh beef and a sauce to go on the rice.
 
19th SEPTEMBER

After my poor performance on Wednesday, I decided some basketball practice was in order. In the afternoon I ‘shot some hoops’ (I believe that’s the correct expression) with some students and, randomly, Sarah, Steven’s (rather big-boned) wife.

20th SEPTEMBER

During the night, the rat who lives in our ceiling (who has been affectionately named Roland) stole Richard’s soap. The true hilarity of this cannot be expressed through written words alone. And we smelt bad before.

21st SEPTEMBER

The classes have swelled recently with new arrivals turning up daily. In Year 8 Academic there are now 11 more than when I first started teaching (making a total of about 30). It’s frustrating because I keep on having to go over work for those who weren’t in the first lessons.

After school, Rich and I went to the market at Ndui Ndui and bought some cabbage and sweet potatoes. We couldn’t stand another rice based meal.

22nd SEPTEMBER

There was no Games today; Mr Eckron made the students study instead as punishment for the disorganization of last week.

23rd SEPTEMBER

Following the email, I asked Nelson and went with him and Rich to drink kava at the Losman bar. The name is in Bislama and comes from lose man because it is the place a man can go to lose his worries.

The kava took about 1 hours to be made, so we watched being done and talked with some locals. Topics of conversation ranged from how to use email to the Channel Tunnel (Ni-Vans are always amazed by it) to the 2000 European Cup Final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich (we were white men, we must know about football!) We drank one shell before returning to Nelson’s house with a bottle of kava. Not two yards from the door, Richard slipped up and fell on his backside, but that probably had more to do with the wet mud rather than the effects of the kava. The locals have a good old chuckle every time we mention it, though.

Back at Nelson’s house, we met his brother Robinson and his father Charlie). I drank four more shells before going home. I didn’t feel any effects apart from a general unsteadiness when walking back.

24th SEPTEMBER

The back-up generator packed up today. The main one gave up the ghost before we arrived, so it looks like we’ll be on just solar power (that gives us three lights in the house) for a while,

Work commenced on the construction of two new classrooms today. Londua is set to expand next year with the scrapping of the Year 6 exams meaning that anybody with the money can receive secondary education. The work is being carried out by teachers and students (to kids back home – you think you’ve got it hard).

25th SEPTEMBER

Rich and I spent the morning with some boys from the school playing frisbee and learning how to climb coconut trees. Richard has started of a craze by introducing frisbee in his PE lessons. Strangely, my teaching of fractions hasn’t had the same effect.

Later on, we both went to Nelson’s house again to drink kava. This time we didn’t have to wait too long at the Losman, although we did meet “Bloody Annoying Accent” Kirk again and another Peace Corps guy, “Aren’t I So Wonderful” Matt. We were going to wait for a string band to turn up, but they were operating on Vanuatu Time, which all the locals joke about and means about two or more hours later than expected. Back at Nelson’s I had the same four shells. Although it was a stronger brew, I still felt few effects.

Everyone drinks kava out of plastic cups over here, but they are referred to as shells. I don’t know why this is; on Nguna we drank from proper shells which contained about double the amount as cups and were called the same.

26th SEPTEMBER

Steven came round for a long “store-an” in the morning. I woke up about half way though it. He told us that we speak much more Bislama than James and Alun ever did, which is nice to know.

Whether it was my charm or good looks I don’t know, but one of the Year 10 girls offered to do my washing, which I accepted readily. Finally, I’ll have clothes that don’t stink. The all-purpose soap I had been using was fairly useless on clothes.

Later in the morning, we went with Stephen to the church at Ndui Ndui. It was an especially long one because it was the end of the month and doubly fun because I hardly understood a word that was said. The only entertainment in the 2-hour service was when a women got annoyed with a lizard that was running around everyone’s feet and beat it to death.

27th SEPTEMBER

Monday is my worst day teaching-wise. I have my only double lesson of the week – Math with Year 8 Academic. If 1hr 30mins of algebra isn’t enough, I have computing with the first years to end the day. This is difficult because a) there are no computers in the chapel where I take the lesson, b) I have no idea what I’m meant to be teaching and c) the students don’t give a damn about the subject because its not examined at the end of the year. Today I started on a new topic: the Internet. None of the students had heard of it (although they could all name at least 3 members of the England football squad).

28th SEPTEMBER

Today will be remembered as the day of many meals. Rich and I had just finished a large plate of noodles for lunch when Nelson came round and announced in his loud, booming voice that there was a meal for the staff cooked to celebrate the laying of the foundations for the new classrooms. As if 4 meals weren’t enough, just after we had eaten dinner, Mr Rolland came round and gave us a freshly caught and cooked lobster. So, in England you pay an extortionate amount for a lobster that has probably been caught in an unsustainable way, and in Vanuatu you get given lobsters caught in an eco-friendly way – one man with a spear-gun.

After school today, I played football with some students and Mr Stephen. It seemed a bit unfair that Stephen had a proper pair of football boots while the kids played either barefoot or in flip-flops.

Martin and Pat phoned in the evening. Paama sounds a lot more basic than here; they don’t have any electricity in their house and the schools doesn’t have a phone (they used the one in the local village). A volcano erupted on a nearby island to them and they’ve been getting ash fall on their house recently. We still can’t get through to Ranwadi.

Later in the evening, Mr Stephen came round to talk about music and email. He’s got a fairly eclectic taste; Queen, the Beatles, Dausake, Bob Marley and now Rich has introduced him to the Jackson 5. Oh dear. He wanted us to help him set up an email address, but the Internet connection was down. We had to use the computer after lights out (8:30) because the temporary generator cannot handle both the dorm lighting grid and the office grid at the same time.

29th SEPTEMBER

Went nagato (local word for hermit crab) hunting today to use as bait for fishing after our earlier failed efforts. With some Year 9 and 10 boys, Rich and I laid out some opened coconuts in the afternoon and in the evening we went back and just picked the crabs up and shoved them into a bucket.

30th SEPTEMBER

Woke up to find some of the crabs had escaped. Great, yet more creatures to add to the menagerie that is our house.

Rich took morning Devotion (a church service) today. It was just a bible reading followed by an explanation and a few songs. The singing over here is truly beautiful, I’m going to try and get a recording of it somehow. I’ve got to take a Devotion next week, which I’m not looking forward to.

In the evening, I helped Mr Stephen set up an email address on Yahoo. He was a quick learner and seemed really pleased to have his own email. He immediately sent a load of messages to previous GAPpers he had the addresses of. While on the computer, Amanda phoned to tell us that I guy from GAP Australia was coming to visit us in a couple of weeks and did we want him to bring anything from Vila. The only thing I could think of was chocolate biscuits, but she said she’d phone again in case we thought of anything else.

31st SEPTEMBER?

There was no power for my Computing class today, so I had to think of something on the spot to teach them. This is my favourite lesson because it is quite a small class (about 12) and they seem to actually enjoy my lessons, probably because Miss Lynrose, their normal teacher, doesn’t have a clue and just makes them copy out of a textbook.

There were no lessons in the afternoon; the kids were helping with the preparations for the fundraising next week.