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Barry In Vanuatu

Diary for February

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TUESDAY 1st FEBRUARY

Graham was on my flight to Ambae today. He was returning from his home island of Pentecost after the Christmas holidays.

Stephen and family, Erica and Cliff from Year 9 (or Year 10 now it's the new school year) were there to meet me at Walaha and I got a truck with them back to Londua. I'm sleeping in my old house, though it's only mine until the new GAPs arrive on Saturday. I don't have any gas for the kitchen, but luckily Mr Stephen's agreed to cook for me.

Baby Nessa's drowned Mr Stephen's cute little cat. The psycho.

THURSAY 3rd FEBRUARY

Mr Stephen moved out to Navitora today, making way for a new Science and Maths teacher who will take his house on campus. Erica and I helped him pack up the family's stuff. Their entire lives fit on 4 short truck rides.

Stephen is a bit pissed off that Graham has turfed him out of his home of 5 years. I knew that Arap school on Vanua Lava was looking for teachers and was asked to phone them because Stephen was too shy. Unfortunately, Arap was looking for Year 11-13 teachers, and Stephen isn't even qualified to do Year 7.

Graham had promised to find me a nearby house, but one hasn't materialised yet and it's only 2 days to go until the girls get here. Obviously, I\m hoping for 3 beauties to step off the plane on Saturday, but looking at the pictures on their profile forms that have been kicking about in the school office, I'm not holding my breath.

FRIDAY 4th FEBRUARY

I hung around at Stephen's new place most of the day, helping him to settle in. It's about 15 minutes walk from the school, on the site of an old vocational school that Stephen helped set up with a Peace Corps about 10 years ago. Naturaly, when the American left, it all fell apart. His house is rented from an old woman named Nelly, who speaks flawless English having visited the UK several times and resembles a little old British lady. OK, she may be a different colour, but she looks nothing like the decrepit old mommas that most NiVan ladies eventually become.

It\s a bit boring at the moment, with nothing much to do. I can't wait 'til the new GAPs and kids arrive.

SATURDAY 5th FEBRUARY

(Now, I have a bit of a problem. Anna, Carly and Jo all know the address of this website, so I can't copy everything I've written about them straight out of my diary, for obvious reasons. I'll therefore have to post only my middle-of-the-road comments and, if you want to know more, you'll have to talk to me)

I got the truck down to Walaha to meet the new GAPs with Graham and Erica. To think, me and Rich just got the school baker. They stepped off the plane looking a bit bewildered, as Rich and I must have done all those months ago. We loaded up the truck with their luggage and drove back to Londua. My first impressions, then. Anna is an extroverted public-school Scot, Jo's from Chatam and has the accent but seems more intelligent than your average Medway resident. Carly didn't say much, so may be a bit shy, or, more likely, was just taking it all in. She's from Wellingborough, which could be in Azerbaijan for all I know.

(Rather than describing how the girls looks, and no doubt getting myself into trouble by making overly critical or complimentary remarks, I'll post a picture of them soon)

We arrived to a much cleaner house than I had left. Graham's daughters had put it to rights (while stealing my Marmite. It was there when I left, Eliana) and made it liveable one again. They've also got all new cutlery, buckets and a tablecloth. I blame gender bias.

I left the girls to settle in, but was soon called in to help remove a beat-up old mattress that had been rotting in Anna's room's cupboards for God knows how long. Anna just started pushing it out and was rewarded by a rat landing on her. The screams came close to causing permanent deafness. What did she expect, anyway, stealing someone's home. Me and Jo finally removed the offending item, chucking the rodent's nest out into the garden. Jo seems to be the least girly of the three, more willing to get her hands dirty. She also keeps rats as pets, which helps with dealing with the pests.

While the GAPS have taken my house, I've moved to Mr Stephen's old one until the new teacher arrives. After the girls had finished setting up their mosquito nets and unpacking their stuff, Stephen and I taught them the vital lesson of how to open a coconut with a bush knife, which they all managed. Eventually.

Graham invited all the volunteers round for dinner. "Is this a regular thing, then?" the girls asked. "This is my second time," I replied.

SUNDAY 6th FEBRUARY

The rats descended from the ceiling of the girls' house to devour soap, toiletries and chocolate biscuits. The GAPs awoke to a trail of destruction; hairbrushes thrown acorss the room, chew marks and rat poo. In one night, the girls had more rodent problems than me and Rich had in 3 months.

I didn't do much today, except for a mammoth session scrubbing all my clothes to death. I mostly left the girls to sort out things and learn to live with each other. I hope they all get on alright. I cooked dinner for them in the evening, a messy mush of rice, tinned tuna and spices.

MONDAY 7th FEBRUARY

At Mr Stephen's old house, I've been sleeping on a mattress on a mattress on the floory, between two chairs on which I've strung my mozzie net up. Last night, however, I had some rat problems of my own, awoken by one of the little bastards chewing at a chairleg. With no torch within reach to scare it off and loud clapping not having much effect, I stumbled outside and slept on a bamboo pole bench, where there was less chance of waking up with chewed toes.

The first thing I did in the morning was string up a mosquito net over a bed in another room.

There was a brief staff meeting in the chapel - only and hour long, the chortest I've experienced. It was a chance for the new teachers to introduce myself, the GAPs aswell as a lot of new NiVan faces, either replacing leavers on the academic side or in Erica's vocational school.

In the afternoon, I took the girls to Ndui Ndui, showing them the shops and taking them to meet the YCI volunteers, who are leaving on Wednesday after 10 weeks. On returning to Londua, I found out that Stephen had killed the rat in my house. I'll sleep a bit easier tonight.

Term was supposed to start today. No, of course it didn't.

TUESDAY 8th FEBRUARY

One of the girls was supposed to be teaching at Ndui Ndui Primary, but that school has found some more tweachers, so it looks like Londua will have a bit of a surplus in staff this term.

In the afternoon, we took a truck to a fundraising at Nambangahaki with Graham and family. The Principal returned from Christmas on Pentecost with a new wife half his age. At first we thought she was just a house girl. That's Vanuatu for you.

Melto, Graham's dog wanted to some to Nambangahaki as well. It didn't give up after being rather rudely thrown off the truck, running the whole way in true Lassie style.

The fundraising was great fun, with kakae, kava, calais (with Rum Cola) and a string band. I think the girls were a bit homesick though, or just taken aback with the craziness of it all, and didn't seem to enjoy it too much.

WEDNESDAY 9th FEBRUARY

I took the girls down to Lo-one sand beach today. It had changed since the last time I'd been, wet season wave action shifting the sand from one side of the cove to the other. It was too rough to go in but quite enjoyable all the same.

I went to Mr Stephen's for dinner in the evening. When I arrived the clouds were spitting, but the rain got progressively heavier a we ate. It continued all evening and, by the time it stopped, it was dark and I didn't fancy my chances on the muddy roads, so I stayed the night, sleeping on the living room floor.

THURSDAY 10th FEBRUARY

Not too much happeing at Londua at the moment, just like when me and Rich first arrived. Hardly any students have arrived yet.

Talking with Graham, it looks like I'll be teaching computing and Agriculture (?!) this year.

FRIDAY 11th FEBRUARY

I'm now homeless. Mr Philimon, the new Maths and Science teacher from North Ambae, arrived to steal my house today. In the meantime, I'm sharing a room with Sharon and Davina at Mr Stephen's house in Navitora. There's no electricity at all, no bathroom (so we have to use the next door neighbour's) and the oven doesn't work, so cooking is in the bush kitchen.

Me and Jo went to the Losman in the evening. Sadly, Kenneth, the owner, passed away last month, so it is now run by his brother, Smith. The place doesn't have the same atmosphere, whether it's the lack of the becrutched Kenneth or the new extension, I'm not sure.

SATURDAY 12th FEBRUARY

The days are still long and boring, no students, nothing to do.

My diary now launches into a long dissertion about the girls which I won't post up. Basically, I like them all, but there's a bit of tension between them.

We all accompanied Graham to Lo-one for kava with Belmasen in the evening. After a few shells and some Vanuatu Beverages Rum Cola (think paintstripper without the flavour) we were all feeling quite merry. Belmasen is the only NiVan not estatic at seeing me back. Instead, he's a bit bemused, "But we drank last kava before! What are you doing back?!"

SUNDAY 13th FEBRUARY

We all went for a picnic at Devil's Rock. It was Eliana's leaving doo; Graham doesn't trust Londua to teach his eldest daughter in the vital 4th year with important exams, so he's sending her off to Ranwadi.

Devil's Rock is a stack jutting out of the water on the eastern tip of Ambae. The coastline around is mainly sandy, black as always, but a lot bigger than the beaches at Loone or Sara Namundu.

It started spitting during the hour-long truck ride to get to the beach, which developed into a full fledged rainstorm while we there. Luckily, we had a tarp that we rigged up among the trees to provide shelter. In a dry spell we managed to roast a chicken over an open fire, which tasted divine (quite a feat for an island chicken).

The rain intensified just as we were packing up to leave and we got soaked to the bone on the back of the truck. A great time was had by all.

MONDAY 14th FEBRUARY

Old Jimmy the postman is leaving on holiday for a month and currently training a replacement called Matthew ("good looking for a NiVan," according to Anna). I feel sorry for Jimmy because nobody in Ndui Ndui likes him, because he is a Jehovah's Witness. Yep, they are reviled everywhere. I bet he can't wait to go home.

TUESDAY 15th FEBRUARY

It looks like I'll be staying with Mr Stephen and family permanently. It's probably for the best, I'd go crazy drinking kava every night if I stayed with Nelson.

Stephen put on an Evening Meal Fundraiser to raise money for Renata's school fees. Most of the village came out to support, along with the girls on my urging (though they weren't too keen on the food, not into "island kakae" yet).

WEDNESDAY 16th FEBRUARY

Ambae was rocked by earthquakes last night; pretty scary stuff. I awoke at about two in the morning to the whole house shaking for about a 15 seconds. Sharon
and Davina ran screaming into their parents' rooms while everything unsecured fell to the floor. Luckily niVans aren't big fans of shelving, so there wasn't
too much damage. 3 or 4 aftershocks followed the main quake, and then all went quiet.

There are two explanations for the quakes, the last round of which, in 1994, led to a part evacuation of west Ambae. The scientific one is that it is all to do
with volcanic activity. 11 years ago, Lake Manaro boiled with an upflow of magma, killing all the trees around. The private view of most "christian" niVans is
that the Ambae God Tagaro is angry with the people for abandoning the old ways. Last time Manaro rumbled, a delegation of chiefs trekked up to the lakes to make an offering to appease him. It worked then, hopefully they'll do the same again.

An Australian vulcanologist is on his way to assess whether these earthquakes bode ill for Ambae. After all, they could be the first signs of an imminent
eruption, one which is overdue for Ambae's volcano. If it does blow, Londua's postion means that it will be annihilated. Not a very pleasant thought.

Me and the girls went into Ndui Ndui to check the post. The quakes were on everybody's lips. Kirk was in town and was of the opinion that we were all doomed, but then he does have the American penchant for overstatement.

The afternoon saw another mammoth staff meeting, briefly interrupted by another tremor. The GAPs' lessons were sorted out; I'm taking Year 7 Agriculture, 9Acc
and Voc English and 9Voc Computing. Carly is doing 9 and 10 Science, Anna's got 7 and 8 English, while Joe will be taking 9 and 10 Maths.

In the evening, there was a fundraising at Ambore, in the hill above the local government office and disused wharf, with kava, kakae and string band. Jerome was down for it from Sara Namundu and was taken aback at my weight loss; "You're fit to climb Manaro now!"

THURSDAY 17th FEBRUARY

It was the start of the 4 academic classes' lessons today. Erica's vocational school of Y9Voc, Y11 and the Computer Girls are starting next week.

I only had two lessons to teach. The new Year 7 intake are just as silent as when I first started last year. I introduced the subject of Agriculture to a stony
silence. They refused to even answer their names in the register. It's going to take some time to get through to them. Year 9, who I took for Maths last
year, were more talkative, although only about half the class has arrived at school. There was no point starting anything, so I got them to write a story
about Manaro erupting. It seemed topical.

The Australian vulcanologist arrived on Ambae today. Graham went to see him up at Nambangahaki. If I see the Principal's family packing up tomorrow, I'm
catching the next flight out.

FRIDAY 18th FEBRUARY

I took another couple of lessons today. Year 7 were as deathly quiet as ever as I started this term's unit of Plant Biology. Me and Carly covered Year 8 Social
Science for Daisy, who hasn't turned up yet. The Year 8's seemed really pleased to see me again, which was a bit of an ego-boost. It's a shame I'm only taking them for one Agriculture lesson a week

SATURDAY 19th FEBRUARY

 

Me and the girls went for kava with Balmasen in the evening. Graham excused himself, saying he was sick. Missing kava? He must be very sick.

 

No Principal meant no free truck, so I went down to the house of Mr Moli, Londua’s old carpentry teacher. His truck had a flat tire, but he promised to change it and pick us up.

 

1 hours after Moli was supposed to turn up, we hitched a lift to Loone with a truck carrying some students from east Ambae.

 

Balmasen and I trekked for half an hour to pick up a kettles’s worth of kava from the nakamal, along with some rum cola. Maybe the Calais (the noble art of following kava with alcohol) was a bit much for the girls, Jo and Carly both trouped (Bislama’s nicely shortened version of “throw up”).

 

SUNDAY 20th FEBRUARY

 

Another slight earthquake was felt in west Ambae today. The Aussie expert guy said we were all safe, but I’m still feeling a little uneasy.

 

Stephen went on a very un-niVan tirade at me about how the school was being badly run by Graham and Erica. Unfortunately, his ability to rant is undermined by his tendency to laugh after every sentence. I think he’s just smarting at being passed over for the post of Deputy Principal, which has gone to the new Mr Philimon, who also got Stephen’s old house.

 

MONDAY 21st FEBRUARY

 

It was the Lini Day Bank Holiday, commemorating the death of Vanuatu’s political father, Walter Lini, who led the country to independence.

 

No school meant nothing much to do. Me and the girls thought of going to the beach, but the sun was too hot and we were too lazy. Instead, they came round for kava and dinner with me and Stephen. Sarah cooked her classic curry chicken, giving the girls a very wrong impression of what we usually eat, rice and tinned tuna or stale bread.

 

Stephen has built a new showeroom so we don’t have to use the neighbours’. The back garden now plays host to a rickety, roofless construction of 4 corrugated iron sheets with a flap of material for a door. It even has a little wooden shelf to put soap on. Des res indeed.

 

TUESDAY 22nd FEBRUARY

 

A new restaurant has opened close to Ambore wharf and the local government center. Me and Carly decided to check it out for lunch, on the way into town* to check the post. The girls love checking the post and receiving packages. Wish I got some. The restaurant, a bamboo and tin creation, was surprisingly good. They even had tomato ketchup, an extreme rarity.

 

I was sitting at home in the evening, when Sharon randomly started to sing. The rest of the family soon joined in and together they belted out about 6 songs. It was a moment of utter, unashamed joy that I struggled to keep tears from my eyes. These are the times, along with the utter craziness of it all, that really make Vanuatu what it is.

 

*I am now referring to Ndui Ndui (pop 200) as “town.” God help me.

 

WEDNESDAY 23rd FEBRUARY

 

I stayed around the girls’ house for dinner and to watch the sunset over the rocks with them. The sunset wasn’t overly impressive, but Joe’s Bombay-style kumala most definitely was.

 

THURSDAY 24th FEBRUARY

 

The was a Rat Incident at the GAP house today. Anna spotted one in the kitchen, screamed (naturally) and shooed it behind the gas canister. I made it a bit groggy with a liberal spray of Mortein (“Fast Insect Knockdown”) before Jo caught it by the tail. She couldn’t bring herself to kill the cute little thing (?) though, so it was up to me to deliver the fatal blow with a block of wood.

 

I haven’t been too keen on Agriculture this year, mainly because I have no idea what it’s all about. Today’s lessons was really cool though, I got them all out collecting leaves. Some of them even came back to do the drawing part (I’m locking the dorm doors next time!). I managed to get Year 8 really pumped (no mean feat with a NiVan class) with a Boys vs Girls quiz. Naturally, the boys won.

FRIDAY 25th FEBRUARY

 

We took Joe to the clinic in Ndui Ndui today. She’s had a case of the ‘sit sit wota’ for two weeks now, which is rarely a good thing. The clinic was very efficient and organized, not the blood-splattered human waste ground normally associated with third-world medical institutions. For 1.50 Joe got a check-up and a course of antibiotics.

 

The MV Makile passed by today, dropping off a load of students and Mrs Daisy. Full normal school can now commence.

 

SATURDAY 26th FEBRUARY

 

Kirk and Matt came round in a truck to take us off for a ‘white weekend’ at Devil’s Rock. Karen also came along, but Erica said she had too much work to do. She really hasn’t got the NiVan work ethic yet.

 

On arrival at the beach, we rigged up a tarpaulin to sleep under, collected firewood, bought a chicken, started a fire and milked some coconuts. So much for a holiday. The chicken suffered a particularly cruel fate, Joe only managing to take its head off after repeated blows from the blunt edge of a bush knife. Not exactly an animal liberationist, our Joe. We finally settled down to ‘soupy stew,’ and Peace Corps pawpaw and mango homebrew. It was utterly foul, but had the desired effect.

27th FEBRUARY
 
Fell off a cliff today. I wouldn't recommend it. We were all planning to row out to the Rock in the morning, but there were only two two-man canoes, so me, Carly and Matt stayed behind, clambering over the rocks to reach the point where we could watch the others on their way. At one point, I misjudged a leap and ended up a bit battered and bruised at the foot of the rocks, which I would have found hilarious if anyone else had done it. Certainly Carly and Matt thought it was.
 
We stayed watching the canoeists for a while, following the shade around the beach. Kirk and Anna reached their destination easily, scaling the Rock to prise out WWII bullets shot by target practising US fighters stationed on Santo. Karen and Jo never made it to the Rock, they just went round and round in circles before giving up and returning to shore.
 
Walking back, we took the road way. A little longer, but much, much safer. We started on lunch when the others returned; the vegetetables from yesterday and nakato crabs that Matt had caught. Last year, Rich and I used these crabs for fishbait. That's all they're good for.
 
The truck home was remarkably punctual, arriving only half an hour after the agreed time. I managed to find a comfortable spot amongst the luggage and fell asleep with my legs dangling off back, which was possibly even more dangerous than cliff scrambling.
 
 

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