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Diary for December
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December 2004

WEDNESDAY 1ST DECEMBER

Today was spent packing bags and waiting for the MV Brisk, which we will be catching to Santo.

Rich left in the morning for the airport. The truck he was taking had to stop at the river closest to the airport because it was too deep, caused by an excess of rainfall recently. He struggled through the raging torrent, only to find that the airport was waterlogged and so the plane wouldn’t land. He finally returned a few hours later, cold, wet and very pissed off.

We were told that the Brisk could come any time after lunch, so in the afternoon we waited round in the front room of the house, occasionally dispatching people to check for ships on the horizon. When it got dark, we started singing Christmas carols. When we ran out of them, we went to sleep on the floor.

THURSDAY 2nd DECEMBER

The ship came at 4 in the morning, after we’d had about 3 hours sleep. We all said goodbye to Pat, who’s staying on Pentecost until a ship comes to take him to Vila. He shall be missed.

The Brisk has a bit of reputation: it has been the scene of two recent murders (the latest was front page news when we first arrived in Vila) and the captain of the ship has sunk a couple already in his career, including one on the same route that the Brisk follows.

It was not a patch on the Sarafenua - no seating, people puking everywhere, not much shade. In fact, the only advantage the Brisk has is a much cleaner loo, which I had to use for a rather long session, my first since leaving Ambae.

The journey to Santo was a long and boring 12 hours, the tedium broken only by the sighting of some dolphins, who started playing around the ship about two hours into the journey. I demolished a Le Carre that I had originally given up after the first 100 pages. I recommend ‘The Constant Gardener’ to anyone stuck anywhere for a great length of time.

We arrived in Santo after dark. The lights of the town were dazzling; 24 hour electricity is going to take some getting use to! We checked in at the Unity Park Motel and then went to the Sports Bar for some fast food. Lovely.

FRIDAY 3rd DECEMBER

I spent the day sorting things out: getting Mr Steven’s film developed, checking emails, sorting out flights, eating ice cream and generally enjoying the delights of civilization.

Luganville is the only town outside of the capital and is basically Vila meet the islands. It has all the trappings of the modern world, mains water and electricity, lots of shops and restaurant, but everything happens in ‘Vanuatu Time," it’s all very laid back. Or it would be, but a cruise ship was in town. Franki and I went into a Chinese store only to have some crazy yellow woman screeching "10 dollar, 15 dollar" at us. We left as quickly as possible.

You can easily tell a cruise shipper from an ex-pat or volunteer. They wear a uniform of baseball or novelty hats and impractical socks and shoes and always seem to be rushing everywhere. Luckily, the locals can tell us apart as well, and joke with us about how they inflate prices for the silly Aussie tourists. I vow never to take a cruise ship in my life.

The Unity Park Motel is spic-and-span, is very cheap (800Vt each for me, Rich and Martin to share a room) and has such luxuries as hot water and electric fans. And I thought Ranwadi was paradise.

In the evening, we all went for a night out at the Sports Bar. Martin got us invited to the members-only part, which was great fun. What wasn’t so amazing was losing the room key and sleeping in the motel’s kitchen. Whoops.

SATURDAY 4TH DECEMBER

We all went for a swim in Matevulu Blue Hole today. Blue holes abound on Santo and are basically deep water pools which are startlingly, well, blue. It was so deep, we couldn’t make out the bottom, which was very eerie after being used to crystal clear seas.

The minibus driver didn’t know the way to the hole, so he stopped for directions at Matevulu College, one of the top 3 schools in the country. It’s quality showed in the neatly laid out, uniformly-coloured buildings which even had proper signs showing directions.

Matevula Blue Hole
matevulabluehole.jpg

Back in Luganville, I used up my once-in-a-lifetime one-in-a-million random possibility by meeting a guy born in Faversham (for those of you who don’t know, that’s where I lived the first 18 months of my life). He runs the Santo Stationary shop, having moved out to Vanuatu 30 years ago after volunteering here, building classrooms on Tanna.

We had heard that Dausake were in town, and tracked them down to a fundraising at an Anglican church not too far from the motel. Apart from Joelle and Jane, who stayed in, we all arrived early and were invited to evening prayer. It was a lot different from Churches of Christ services, involving lots of primal chanting and kneeling down to pray before jumping up and bursting into song - it was quite hard to keep up. The congregation (apart from us) were dressed in the red and blue of the Melanesian Brotherhood that made them look like the private army of a Bond villain.

Marcel from Nguna turned up a little while after - he IS a member of Dausake! So we did actually meet a national celebrity in his garden. Only in Vanuatu. He went crazy when he saw Pat.

Aside from the music, there was kakae and kava at the fundraising. I drank with a cool Banks Islander called Jonny Ralph. He had heard of Canterbury - Rowan Williams visited Santo last July. We ended up debating the ordination of gay bishops - my Bislama must be getting quite reasonable!

I finally felt the effects of kava this evening - a general mellow feeling, desire to smile at everything and an urge to sleep. Hopefully this is a turning point and not just a particularly strong brew of kava.

SUNDAY 5th DECEMBER

We all got a minibus to Champagne beach today, the setting for most of Vanuatu’s beach scene photographs. It was about a 2-hour ride from Luganville, so we’re staying the night not too far away at Lonnoc Bay Bungalows. It’s on the coast and very ‘island,’ with no electricity or running water. It does, however, have a reasonable beach of it’s own and an excellent view of Elephant Island. I can’t see where the name come from, but some of the others say it looks like it’s namesake lying down. Whatever.

Only me, Martin, Rich and Kate went to the beach today. It was easily the best I’ve seen on Vanuatu, and therefore ever, but wasn’t as spectacular as I expected. The postcards don’t show the ugly concrete wharf built on one side for the cruise ships to dock.

Champagne Beach, Santo
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MONDAY 6TH DECEMBER

It was back to Santo town today. Luganville is never referred to as such, it’s always Santo or Santo town. Leaving Lonnoc, the bill came to the equivalent of 18 pounds each, which seemed hellishly expensive, until I thought about what you’d pay in England for a crappy seaside hotel.

When we got back to the motel, Martin realized he hadn’t seen his camera recently and couldn’t find it in any of his (many, overloaded) bags. So we went off on a hunt to everywhere we’d been in town and drew a blank. It’s got all his photos from Paama, which makes it all fairly tragic; he’s put a message out on Radio Vanuatu with a reward for it’s return. We can only cross fingers.

Pat phoned us in the evening. He had an even worse time on the Brisk than us when he went to Vila. Between Epi and Efate, there is a stretch of open sea, leading to plenty of puke and discomfort. He’s leaving for Australia on Wednesday. While talking to me, he heaped praise on this very website, which he had viewed at an Internet Café in Vila. Nothing like blowing your own trumpet.

TUESDAY 7th DECEMBER

Joelle and Jane left for Epi in the morning, so there are now 5 of us.

I saw Jonny at the market today. He was waiting to catch a boat to the Banks islands in the far north of the country. I considered getting it with him, the Banks are very remote and look quite fun, but when I checked with Vanair I found that all the flights back are booked out until January, so I decided against it.

The others went to Aore island in the afternoon, but I wasn’t feeling too good so I had a long sleep instead.

In the evening, Martin and Rich bought some kava roots from the market and prepared some homemade kava. They didn’t get the mix quite right, resulting in a strength brew that could knock your socks off. I could only manage one shell, which was enough to put me to sleep almost where I stood.

WEDNESDAY 8th DECEMBER

Kate and Franki were going to Malekula today and, with a lack of any better plans, I decided to join them.

We were told that the ship would leave at 1:30, so at that time we boarded. We finally got underway at 6:00. It is a tiny vessel that looks like it would be more suited to a river than the ocean, with a long, incomprehensible name. It is mainly a cargo ship, although there were 3 other passengers traveling with us.

Soon after setting out, we hit choppy seas, which our little tub was not at all equipped for. After a couple of hours, the single engine spluttered and died. Adrift in a hostile ocean, with everyone but me puking their guts out, the crew somehow managed to patch the engine back up and we hobbled back to Santo, to stay for the night. Or so we thought. Just as I was nodding off, the engine started and we were off again. The waters were just as rough as before and Kate and Franki were terrified. I found it immense fun, however, and even managed to snatch the odd minute of sleep here and there, my feet wedged in between the railings to prevent my falling into the drink.

THURSDAY 9th DECEMBER

We arrived in Malekula in the early afternoon, the voyage having taken five times the usual 4 hours. The sea was never calm, but Kate and Franki were less scared when they found a place to sit on the canopy, further above the waves. They just got very sunburnt instead.

We weren’t charged when we got to Lislits wharf. And to think, you’d pay loads for just an hour of that if it were billed as a thrill-seeking adventure at some theme park.

Lakatoro, our destination 5 minutes from the wharf, looks surprisingly civilized; it even has speed restrictions! It is a town by Vanuatu standards, even though its about a quarter of the size of Chestfield, (the small village where I live) being the capital of Malampa province (MALekula, AMbrym and Paama). There is 24 hour electricity and running water, not the norm on the islands.

We checked in checked into the MDC Guesthouse: two storeys and a shower! Luxury. It is rather scarily situated in a compound surrounded by a high, barbed wire-topped fence which gives the impression of a prison. Is it too keep people in or people out? Once we found that water flowed from the taps, we didn’t actually care.

Everything in my bag stinks of the boat and that is not a nice smell. After I’d got all my clothes freshly laundered when I left Santo. I also feel like I’m still on the ship, everything seems to be swaying ominously.

After we’d dumped our bags at the guesthouse, we found a beach and sat on it. We didn’t feel like doing much else.

FRIDAY 10th DECEMBER

I woke today completely disconcerted and it seemed like minutes before I remembered where I was. Fortunately, the world has ceased swaying like it was yesterday.

There isn’t much to do around Lakatoro, it is mainly a copra town, so we took a truck to Rose Bay Bungalows, close to the village of Sanwir in the north-east of Malekula, arriving at lunchtime. The rooms are very basic, no running water or other such frivolous luxuries here.

Also staying at the bungalows is a French couple who work in New Caledonia, Vanuatu’s nearest neighbour. This area of Malekula is francophone, so I’m relying on Bislama more than ever. There’s no discernible difference between French- and English-speaking NiVans, although the bread is nicer here.

We arrived too late to take any tours, so instead we laid on the beach and found a lovely warm river estuary to swim in. In the evening, we walked to the nearby village to drink some kava. It was quite strong and, even better, free. The locals offered to take us to a ‘nightclub,’ which sounded interesting, but it was apparently a long walk away, which isn’t advisable after kava.

SATURDAY 11th DECEMBER

jeffryssign.jpg

I went to the small offshore Wala Island today, while Kate and Franki hiked into the bush to see an ancient cannibal site. I would have joined them, but my shoe situation isn’t particularly good at this moment, just a pair of broken sandals.

Lonely Planet promised stone monoliths and prehistoric initiation huts. Unfortunately, a recently built wharf has attracted cruise ships to Wala Island, so George, my guide, showed me the place the Smol Nambas dance for the tourists, the place the whitemen stop to eat mangoes and a drab new concrete church built by the influx of money from P&O. It was all very depressing, but got more interesting just talking with the locals. A guy called Jeffry asked me to correct his sign encouraging tourists to buy drinks from his stall and showed me his pride and joy, a beat up old battery operated stereo.

The canoe ride back to the mainland was rough and therefore extremely scary, although the outriggers all the canoes are equipped with make them very safe. Kate and Franki arrived exhausted about an hour after me. They saw skulls and cooking places and generally a lot more interesting stuff than on tourist-sanitized Wala.

We went back to the same place to drink kava again in the evening. We enquired about the nightclub, but apparently it only runs on Fridays.

SUNDAY 12th DECEMBER

After lunch, we got a truck to Norsup, halfway back to Lakatoro, today. The driver dropped us off at a guesthouse close to the airport that was so new it wasn’t built yet. Well, not completed at any rate and smelt of newness, which is the same whether a building is made of modern materials or bamboo. Crazy Patricia met us and heartily welcomed us, only her third set of guests.

Once we’d got settled in, me in one of the two rooms, Kate and Franki in the other, we went out navara hunting with Patricia and Lydian, possibly her sister. Navara is the fifth and final stage of a coconut, when it is all solid inside. We trekked through a massive plantation (PRV’s, the 3rd largest in the world apparently) to get to the family garden. In addition to navara, we had some kind of weird but delicious fruit that you sucked to get a taste similar to strawberry and then spat out.

By the time we got back it was getting dark; kava time. We went with Hosia, Patricia’s Dad, to the nearest nakamal, which turned out to be quite a trek away through the bush. At 100vt a shell, it was quite expensive, the reason being that it doesn’t grow in this part of Malekula and so the roots must be bought from the south. The strength was almost high enough to justify the price, however, and it didn’t take many shells to get me fairly inebriated.

MONDAY 13th DECEMBER

We decided to go to Norsup Island, another small offshore isle today, and were accompanied by Patricia, Lydian and Boris, another sibling. Patricia and Lydian admitted to never having paddled before, but they insisted on taking the two oars A few wild 360o turns and many arguments followed, but luckily the sea was smooth and we stayed upright.

On arrival, we were given the full guided tour by a local villager. Norsup looks like the archetypal desert island, tiny, with thick bush encircled by glorious white sand beaches. Later, we went snorkeling on the coral reef. It was the first time I’d been and I found it truly breathtaking. I didn’t realize coral and fish came in so many shapes, colours and sizes! It was also incredibly relaxing, I could have stayed out there all day (and would have got a sunburnt back). When we returned to shore, Patricia and Lydian had laid out a fantastic picnic of every fruit under the sun. This is the life!

I put a phonecall through to Paama to see if Martin was there. He had planned to go back and take pictures with a new camera to replace the ones he lost with his digital. The first time I rang, the guy on the other end said, "He’s just in the nakamal. I’ll go get him. Ring back in 5 minutes." I did so, only to get the same guy: "Sorry, he’s not drinking kava. He left in November." The Paamese are the Irish of Vanuatu, and with good reason.

TUESDAY 14th DECEMBER

Kate and Franki flew out this morning to meet the others in Epi, so now I’m all on my own. When I returned from waving them off, Patricia informed me that I was now on the long-stay rate and so now I’m paying only 5 pounds a day for a room and full board.

In the evening, I was invited to a going-away party of a Peace Corps called Jonathon, who worked in the local Education Office. An eclectic mix of white people were there, a Frenchwoman, a New Zealander, a Canadian, two Americans and an Aussie. And me the Brit. I mostly hung around with the ni-Vans, they’re far more interesting. The kava was very strong, and I drank it with Jean-Louis, who’s in Year 9 at school so really shouldn’t have been drinking.

WEDNESDAY 15th DECEMBER

I went to yet another offshore island, Rano, today. The north-east of Malekula is inundated with tiny islets. Patricia and Jean-Louis accompanied me and we got the full tour, including ancient natsaros (sacred ring of large stones used for dances), a random tree clothed in the black of bats and some guy smoking out a bee’s nest to get some honey. After another lovely picnic on the beach, we saw some smol Nambas (tribe) kastom dancing, which was a bit pants, only about 5 dances and nowhere near as good as Ambae’s.

I went for kava again in the evening with Hosia. Malekulans are far more knowledgeable about world affairs than those on Ambae, but they do have some decidedly odd opinions. On discussing the American elections with one local, he declared that he supported Bush because he liked the war on "evil, dishonest Muslims." So that’s why he got re-elected.

Rano Island from afar
58rano.jpg

THURSDAY 16th DECEMBER

There was nothing much to do today, so I went into Lakatoro to book a flight to Santo (less danger to life and limb than returning by ship), try and use the Internet and generally wander around the massive LTC supermarket in awe. The rather grandly named Internet Café turned out to be a computer in a room, but the guy who owned it wasn’t there, so I couldn’t check my emails.

It was kava again in the evening. I’d made the mistake during the day of mentioning in passing to Hosia that I liked string bands, so he dragged me to three different nakamals until we found one with live music, which turned out to be a bit too loud after a few shells anyway.

FRIDAY 17th DECEMBER

Patricia was going to wedding today, so she invited me along. With a lack of anything to do, I accepted and ending up sitting through the weirdest sermon ever. At one point, the eccentric-looking pastor came out with, "God can’t live in your hearts and minds alone. You must decorate your houses nicely!" Um, okay. After all the churchy stuff, there was the traditional exchanging of vows and rings, but there didn’t seem to be much of a party afterwards, so I just followed Patricia back to the bungalow.

I drank kava for the 4th night in a row, which is probably not a good idea, but hey, I’m having fun. There was another over-loud string band. Kava increases your sensitivity to light and sound, and a live band is really the last thing you want. One guy said that he thought "music ruins the kastom of kava," which I do agree with.

SATURDAY 18th DECEMBER

I woke up today to breakfast with the crazy pastor from yesterday’s wedding. He turned out to be both relatively sane and a Londua alumnus, so he was pretty fun breakfast company. His parting comment was, "If we don’t meet again, I’ll meet you up there," indicating skywards. That’s right people, I’m going to heaven and I’ve heard it from a guy who should know.

It was time for me to leave Malekula today, and before I left for the airport, Hosia and family presented me with a hand-woven mat and a salu-salu. If they do that for every guest, they’ll never make money. Actually, it was a really nice gesture and I must admit I was little choked when I walked up the steps into the plane and waved to them for the last time. Or maybe not, they’ve invited me back for the official opening in January.

Malekula looked very orderly from the plane, all straight roads and neatly laid out coconut plantations. 20 minutes from take off and I was back in civilization, otherwise known as Santo. I checked in at Unity Park and fell asleep without eating. Must be all the kava I’ve been having recently.

SUNDAY 19th DECEMBER

I’ve got a list of things to do in Santo, but couldn’t tick anything off today because, being the Sabbath, nothing’s open. For a lack of anything to do, I read a load of Time magazines left by a previous guest and got up-to-date on the news.

I was getting desperate in the evening; I couldn’t find anywhere to buy food. It looked like it would be another night without eating, probably worse than excessive kava, when Karen, a recently arrived Peace Corps, offered me some of her pasta. She really just wanted somebody to talk to, having been stuck in Luganville for a month and contemplating another because the school she is supposed to be teaching in is deserted at the moment. It took me a bit of time to understand what she was saying, though, having not spoken English for a long time, but we ended up talking for hours and hours.

MONDAY 20th DECEMBER

I used today to sort everything out. I phoned home with my intention to stay on at Londua next term (then retired to my room for a little while), went Christmas shopping, reconfirmed my flight to Ambae and sent some emails from the Internet café. Luganville is already losing its charm after the initial impact of arriving back in civilization. Karen is going to get very bored.

TUESDAY 21st DECEMBER

I did some last-minute Christmas shopping (after remembering Mr Stephen had more kids than I’d bought for) before catching a flight to Ambae. Quite a few people at Walaha airport recognized me, which was cool, even if I couldn’t do the same for them. There were no signs of Mr Moli, who was supposed to meet me at the airport in his truck. I found out later that he’d met the earlier flight from Vila, typically ni-Van! In the end, I hitched a ride to Londua with the ladies from the Ndui Ndui market house. Riding in the back I passed all the old villages, it felt like returning home. What was great was the expression on people’s faces as they noticed me. I definitely think I made the right decision coming back next term.

I was met at the school by Graham, who gave me the keys to my old house. It was just the same as I remembered it: broken shower, disgusting bush toilet, rats in the ceiling, non-functional internal loo, copulating geckos on the walls and cockroaches everywhere. Home sweet home. The only change is that the front room has been filled with loads of odd-looking containers holding mysterious unknown items. I wonder what all those are about.

Passing Navitora on the way down from the airfield, I had noticed some sort of party going on. With a lack of anything better to do, I went to investigate. It turned out to be a homecoming celebration for some villagers who had recently returned from Erromango. I met Mr Stephen and loads of people I knew there and had dinner. In the evening, there were skidjes, which were more fun to watch than write down on paper (or type onto a computer screen, for that matter).

WEDNESDAY 22nd DECEMBER

Navitora church hosted a double wedding today and one of the grooms turned out to be Silber. He already has two children, which I thought was a bit strange in a conservatively Christian society, but they are by his wife-to-be so maybe that’s allowed. After all, with the way they celebrate, too many weddings would leave Vanuatu bankrupt!

I had been told that the service would start at 9AM, so I went down at 11 and was just in time. In church, it was quite traditional, though unfortunately without a mad preacher as on Malekula. After the service, there was the usual kakae, sing-sings, kastom danis (interrupted by trucks trying to use the same road as the dancers) and a load of people running around pouring talcum powder over everyone else. Just the usual, then.

Wedding reception sing-sing
wedding.jpg

THURSDAY 23rd DECEMBER

I opened the door to a Ni-Van about my age this morning. After exchanging "’Alos," he didn’t do or say anything, so I sat down and continued eating my breakfast. Eventually, he ventured that his name was Matthew and that he was an ex-student at Londua who was spending Christmas with Mr Stephen. He then climbed a palm tree and got us down a couple of coconuts.

Nothing much else exciting happened today. I’m missing the traditional Christmas build-up. Where’s all the irritating songs?!

FRIDAY 24th DECEMBER

It was a Christmas Eve like no other I’ve had, mainly because I didn’t do anything especially Christmasy. Although I did almost get killed. Matt and I were washing down in the rockpools, the sea being too rough to go in at this time of year. At one point, we noticed that the was sea quickly receding. We scrambled up the rocks just before the massive wave smashed. My soap dish wasn’t so lucky.

The wrapping paper I bought in Santo turned out to be too small to wrap all my presents. Mr Stephen and family are therefore going to receive gifts covered in old Vanuatu Daily Posts.

I hadn’t heard a carol yet, so in the evening, Matt and I set off in search of a church with a carol service. It shouldn’t have been that difficult given the amount of churches around, but all the services were in language, which neither me nor Matt (who’s from the Banks) knows. Dejected, we tried to catch some bats to eat tomorrow instead. We’d find a mango tree, I’d aim my torch at a bat and Matt would shoot at it with his catapult. We tried for ages and didn’t catch a single one.

SATURDAY 25th DECEMBER

Christmas Day and not a Turkey in sight! Instead, dinner was Mr Stephen’s favourite: curried chicken.

In the morning, Matt, me and the kids went up to Nambangahaki to buy some Christmas decorations. To my surprise, there was a shop that was open and it did indeed sell decorations. On the way back, we passed a cinema. Yes, a cinema in West Ambae! It was a kastom built house with a DVD player linked to a projector. Amazing.

We exchanged presents at lunch. From Mr Stephen, I got a T-Shirt, in exchange for a radio (for him), a teddy bear for collector Sarah and sweets for the kids. All the kids got a set of plastic guns that make irritating noises when the trigger is pressed. I am going to go insane.

Later on, I popped into Mr Moli’s to say hello. He proudly showed me his solar panels, VCD player (wow, someone actually uses them) and flushing toilet. It wasn’t an actual flushing toilet, but a kit to make one. God knows what it’ll turn out like.

It may not have been a white Christmas, but it did rain throughout the day.

SUNDAY 26th DECEMBER

It was Family Day today, as the day after Christmas is known in Vanuatu.

Robinson had invited me to go drink kava, so I went down to his house with Matt. Nelson is currently in the north of Ambae, on holiday with his girlfriend, a nurse at Lolowai hospital. On the way, we saw Robinson, who said he was "doing a kastom," whatever that means, so Matt and I went alone to the Losman. On approaching the bar, Matt went all weird on me and said he didn’t drink kava and refused to enter. Instead he went home. Very strange.

Kenneth’s, owner of the Losman, situation has deteriorated. He now has no control over either of his legs and gets around in a wheelchair. He lives on a bed under a rickety shelter close to his kava bar, but remains ever cheerful, and not just because of his proximity to the narcotic drink.

I’d never walked back through the bush to Nanako from the Losman on my own. After four shells, Smith (Kenneth’s brother) decided I wasn’t ready to do this, and so gave me an utterly terrifying lift on the back of his motorbike down to the main road. He would have taken me the whole way back home, but as it was the engine spluttered and died in Ndui Ndui and there was no-one around selling fuel. To be honest, this was probably best. Walking may have taken longer, but at least it didn’t involve risking life and limb.

MONDAY 27th DECEMBER

Ephenesar was sick in the night, so Mr Stephen and family took him to the clinic. Graham has taken his daughters down to Devil’s Rock, so I was left alone at Londua with the chickens.

The evening saw a 10-Year-Kakae (I thought this was stretching the concept a bit far) at Navitora. A very strong kava was made, of which I could only manage two shells. Mr Stephen also drank, the first time I’d seen him do so. His 5 shells got him comically stoned. It was a good thing there was a truck going back to Londua as I doubt he’d have been able to walk home.

WEDNESDAY 29th DECEMBER

I felt ill yesterday and stayed in bed. Did the same this morning, but felt better in the afternoon.

It was the start of New Years’ celebrations at Londua today. Quite a festival has been planned, beginning with a film night on the field. Graham has borrowed the projector from the Nambangahaki cinema and set it up in the middle of the football pitch. Hundreds of people came from the area around to watch Hellboy on a big screen. Graham’s big moment of starting the film was ruined when he struggled for 10 minutes on the DVD menu, trying to get the damn thing to work. Silber (who is running the festivities) joined him, but to no avail. Eventually, I offered to help, pressed two buttons and got it working. Ni-Vans and technology is not a good mix. Hellboy wasn’t a great film, but not having watched TV in ages, I enjoyed it greatly.

THURSDAY 30th DECEMBER

Sport was the order of Day 2 of the New Year celebrations. 5 teams of local kids competed in football, volleyball and basketball. The Londua, pikinini, Davina, Sharon, Bill and Amelia formed a team called Tiger. When I asked them how they were doing, they replied, "We’re not first."

Mr Stephen and Chief Cook David have set up rival food stalls next to each other close to the football field. Both are selling cakes, juice and popcorn at identical prices. There is also a second-hand clothes stall, which is proving very popular.

A recently-erected stage on the football pitch was used for dances, sing-sings and skits in the evening, followed by a screening of Mulan II, which was lovely and Disney.

After the film, a Bon Annee group from Sara Namundu visited Stephen’s house. These are rather like carol singers, only they don’t sing carols. Instead they go round at New Years and sing religious songs in West Ambae language. They also had a string band, who played "An Ode To the Sarafenua." Brilliant.

FRIDAY 31st DECEMBER

The sports competition continued today - Tiger ended up in last position.

There was a lavid (one step from ‘big kakae’ on the Ni-Van feast scale) in the afternoon, followed by more singing and dancing. At 12 o’ clock sharp (accuracy in Vanuatu!) fireworks were set off. It was a short but large display, only the second ever on Ambae. Last year when they had fireworks, half the people ran away in sheer fright. The hardened audience were more steadfast this time around, but some still did flee from the strange fire in the sky.