FRIDAY 1st APRIL
My torch broke sometime during last night's dancing, leaving me with fears of vastly limited nocturnal mobility. Fortunately,
I met Gilbert on the way back from school, who turned out to be a torch repairing whizz. We went to his house, where he proudly
showed me his collection of reclaimed torches. Pride of place was given to a particularly large searchlight-style one,
which he recovered from the sea. It took him little time to diagnose the problem with my torch: there was a problem with the
battery connections which had caused the bulb to blow. He sorted out the former problem, and for the latter we headed down
to David Toa's store, the best-stocked in Ndui Ndui, to find a new bulb. I was pleasantly surprised to find that one fitted
perfectly into my torch, though it was slightly more powerful than the one it replaced. Trying it, the torch worked perfectly
and Gilbert and I celebrated with a few shells of kava from David's bar handily located behind his shop.
While we were there, a truck full of men from Walaha arrived. Despite their village being a good hour-long drive along
the coast, this was their nearest nakamal. Seventh Day Adventists have a strong presence in the villages down that way, and
kava drinking is prohibited, so men who want it have to charter a truck. Which, obviously, they are quite willing to do.
SATURDAY 2nd APRIL
I had heard that Naahu Tribes, my favourite string band, were due to play at Nakatambol, a little village close to Ndui
Ndui, so Andrew, Dudley and I set off in the evening to go and watch them. Nakatambol has a nice big open area in its centre,
which often plays host to fundraisers and kava nights, today being the former. The other two were SDA, so we didn't drink
any kava, but it was an enjoyable night nonetheless, with plenty of food and dancing, as well as the greatest string band
in the world.
SUNDAY 3rd APRIL
The GAPs, Erica and I went to Matt's house for dinner today. His concrete work-in-progress home is quite cosy, although
the lack of ceiling means that it heats up really quickly. Matt also tends a small garden, growing some vegetables along with
peanuts. We sat out eating chicken stew on the decking he had built himself, and followed it with apple pie. Apple pie! I
hadn't tasted that for a long while. Even if it was made out of tinned apples, it was still delicious in its exoticism. That
is one of the few times I'll be ever be able to say that tinned apples make food more exotic!
TUESDAY 5th APRIL
I woke up today feeling terrible, with a cold sweat, high temperature and an awful feeling of lethargy. It was so bad
that I didn't manage to make it into school for my morning lessons. The strange malady passed as swiftly as it had arrived,
however, and was feeling well enough to teach in the afternoon.
The Garae's had great fun in the evening trying to teach me the local language of West Ambae. It is far more difficult
than Bislama or even other European languages, because it isn't based on Latin. I managed to learn the numbers 1-10, however,
and the most important phrase to know: "Now lengiya now ino laha na maluk ky togwali," or, in English, "I would like one shell
WEDNESDAY 6th APRIL
Emergency Pope Day was declared today, a short notice public holiday called to commemorate the death of the Catholic
pontiff. Vanuatu's government must be one of very few in the world that will suddenly decide that everyone can have
the day off. If only we had that in Britain... Londua observed the holiday, even though it is a Protestant-run school. Hell,
anything for a day off. Not that much could be done with it, a constant waterfall of hammering rain saw to that.
Sarah's cooked freshly caught crabs for dinner, but during the course of boiling them, the shells seized up completely
and it was impossible to open them up to get at the meat inside. Much effort and a few broken forks later, we decided to decamp
to Navitora restaurant instead.
THURSDAY 7th APRIL
Nelson stole two of my lessons today. Upon trekking the length of the school with arms piled high with textbooks, I found
that 9Vocational needed my English lesson to finish a carpentry project. I didn't mind too much, practical skills will probably
be of more use to them in the future. Later on, however, Nelson also kept Year 8, my favourite class, late to do some
carpentry instead of Agriculture. I think I'll let it slide for now, he is very generous with kava, after all.
The torrential downpour continued throughout the day - April is living up to what the ni-Vans call the "Month of Rain."
FRIDAY 8th APRIL
I didn't have any lessons today at all, my usual two in the afternoon being used for PISSA games team selection by the
new Sports Master, Mr Stephen.
The girls and I almost got a boat to Santo. After packing up and getting ready to walk down to Ndui Ndui wharf, Graham
informed us that a guy from GAP was coming tomorrow and so it probably wasn't the best time for a weekend away.
The buckets continued to drop from the skies. Will it ever stop?
SATURDAY 9th APRIL
Phil from GAP arrived today to check up on the Londua placement, just as Steve did last year. The first thing you notice
about Phil is that he is TALL, seven feet something of pure Australian. Anna took an instant liking to him, no doubt hoping
all was in proportion.
Phil had visited the Pentecost placements first, and had had a bit of an adventure getting to Ambae. The airfield in
South Pentecost was under water, as it tends to be at this time of year, so he had to take a combination of canoe and the Brisk
to catch a plane from the north of island instead.
The girls and I took Phil to Lo-one in the evening to visit Belmasen and down a few shells of the grey stuff. Graem came
along too, never one to pass up an opportunity for kava. It was surprisingly weak for Lo-one, but Phil guzzled down seven
shells and felt the effects. This wasn't, with hindsight, the best idea, as the lack of a truck meant we had to splash our
way through deep puddles formed by the recent heavy rainfall to get back home. I finally got back at midnight; a very late
night in Vanuatu.
SUNDAY 10th APRIL
Some toner for the photocopier finally arrived today. I've been waiting for it for ages so that the Year 10s can
have more copies of I Am David, which we are studying for their crucial exam at the end of the year. In typical Vanuatu
fashion, however, the machine broke down after producing just one copy.
MONDAY 11th APRIL
The unbelievable happened today - events happened early! I was taken aback when Phil's flight to Santo arrived before
schedule, meaning that he missed it and it looked as though he would have to stay on Ambae a little while longer. As if taking
sympathy, the MV Makila, a ship bound for Santo, confounded expectations by appearing two days early. Phil decided
to catch it instead of waiting for a plane, and I joined him, desperately needing to visit the cash machine in Luganville
before my money ran out. Anna came along too, wanting a bit of a holiday.
The Makile isn't quite as terrible as its reputation. Its a redoubtable little rustbucket that slowly makes its way around
most of the islands between Vila and Santo. There isn't much seating, but it wasn't too crowded and at least you don't
run the risk of murder as on the Brisk. We spent the first half of the seven-hour journey on the roof the main cabin,
with a couple of fishermen who trailed a line from the back the ship. At one point. a tug was felt, and a cry went up. Soon
there appeared a large group of men, all straining to full in a large variety of some kind of fish, which turned out to be
delicious served with rice for dinner.
When it got dark, we decamped to the main deck and shortly afterwards arrived in Luganville. We were met at the docks
by my old friend Matt and his flatmate Jeffrey, Mr Stephen having phoned ahead. Forward planning by a ni-Van. What is happening
to world?! They had family staying, so we decided to enjoy the thick mattresses and hot showers of Unity Park during our stay
in Santo. Phil offered to pay for our first night aswell, which was a bonus.
Splashing out a bit, we went to one of the many Chinese restaurants which always tastes all the better for being something
different to island food every time I go to Santo. Afterwards, we went for drinks at the Sports Bar. Phil echoed my own thoughts
about Santo's premier (read, only) nightspot: "This is possibly the most depressing I've ever been to." It has something to
do with the sickly pall cast by the rows of fruit machines.
A film was showing on the TV, an Australian flick called Bad Boy Bubby. I very much doubt that it is available
in the UK, or even in its land or origin, and with good reason. The plot follows the eponymous Bubby as he explores the world
after being kept inside a house for 30 years by his evil mother, who had pretended that he couldn't go outside due to a chemical
explosion. He also wraps cats up in cellophane, causing them to suffocate to death. I couldn't work out what relevance that
had to the story, or indeed how most of the scenes related to the plot. In short, it was rubbish. So rubbish, however, that
it was strangely compelling, and we even tried to tune Unity Park's TV in to catch the end of it. Luckily, we didn't succeed.
TUESDAY 12th APRIL
So much for "thick mattresses and hot showers." The bed is so comfortable that my back, hardened by months on thinner
mattresses, can't stand it and I woke up in pain. And the solar heating system for the water isn't very effective in these
days of clouds and rain.
Phil left this morning for Paama, to visit the GAPs who replaced Pat and Martin. Anna and I went down to dock and found
out that the Makile was due to leave tomorrow at midnight. Normally, I would have planned to be ready to leave about
6PM the following day, but in these crazy days of early ships, I'm not really sure what to do.
Buckets descended in the evening. We have had very little let up in rain recently, but this was more than a drizzle.
This was God thinking that Santo could do with a bit of a clean, reaching for his celestial hosepipe and turning the taps
to full capacity. Anna and I were trapped in the LCM store for half an hour before we decided to risk trenchfoot and wade
our way back to Unity Park.
Matt and Jeffrey were supposed to be popping round in the evening, but the rain must have put them off.
WEDNESDAY 13th APRIL
The Garae's had given me a shopping list of modern frivolities unavailable on Ambae. I therefore spent today trawling
the Chinese stores searching for hair softener, soft calico for dress-making, mini-shoes for Ephenesar and perfume. The problem
with Chinese stores (that is, every shop in Santo) is that they are full of essentially the same things (clothes, calico,
tinned meat, noodles, biscuits hair clips and terribly made children's toys) except for a few well-hidden items that are unique
to that store. The way to shop therefore, is to ask shop assistants where you can find a certain item. They'll direct you
with utter certainty to another identical looking store. This second shop won't have your item, but it will have contain another
smiling NiVan totally sure that it can be found at another store. After an hour of traipsing around Santo town, you'll stumble
on your wanted item in the one store that no-one had mentioned. Beats Oxford Street any day.
It was dry in the evening, so Jeffrey popped round and we went for kava at my usual Santo haunt, an open air nakamal
a couple of blocks away from Unity Park. There we met John Vira, the adopted son of Jeffrey, Ranwadi's incredibly camp teacher.
The small size of Vanuatu means that everyone turns out to be related to someone you know. John told us that he was glad that
his Tannese girlfriend was out of town, meaning that he could sneak out to drink some kava. It wasn't that his girlfriend
disapproved of kava, but every time they went together she would drink him under the table. Not the kind of thing a self-respecting
NiVan male wants his friends to see.
The brief let up in rain was shattered by a fresh barrage that erupted as I was walking back to the motel. I collected
my bags, joined Anna, and we set off to the wharf to catch the Makile.
THURSDAY 14th APRIL
We left port at 2AM amidst a small storm. Anna and I tried to find a place in the bowls of the ship to escape from the
driving rain so that we could sleep. The only place available was on top of a freezer, which, in addition to being uncomfortable,
was situated next to the engine room, so we didn't get much sleep..
The rain had stopped at first light when we awoke from the light doze that was the best form of rest we managed to get.
We went and sat outside, warmed by a mug of incredibly strong and sweet black coffee. When the rain started up again, we were
offered refuge in the wheelhouse with the captain, a muscular man with an air of authority and competence who fought the storm
with a grim determination. The wheelhouse held a surprising amount of modern technology - a GPS system, sparklingly new radio
and other wondrous gizmos, but they were all disconnected or broken, leaving it to the captain to wrestle on his own against
Bani, Ambae's resident nutter, got on the ship at Walaha. I've heard a bit about him, but never seen him before. Apparently
he used to be a primary school teacher in Sara Namundu, but on day went something flipped in his brain, and now he tends to
wonder around ships with one shoe on, yelping to his heart's content and stealing captains' cigarettes. Noone gets annoyed
with Bani, they just laugh and play along with him
We finally arrived Ndui Ndui mid-morning. We thought about getting off and walking, but being only twenty minutes away
from Londua, we decided to stay on. Sod's Law then struck with full force, however, the storm intensifying to its peak. We
landed at Londua point four hours later.
FRIDAY 15th APRIL
It was Youth night this evening, a programme of entertainment for the boarders. Mica, by far and away the most confident
pupil in the school and an obvious candidate if the post of Head Boy was ever created, led proceedings. First off, the volunteers
ran some party games, Erica, Carly and Jo organising pictionary while Anna and I whipped the kids into a frenzy with Musical
Chairs and Simon Says.
The games were followed by a couple of mini-plays performed by students. Its amazing how they can overcome their natural
shyness and timidity to act stupidly and make people laugh when acting.
Finally, Regina from Year 9 put on an eating competition, pitting two students against each other to eat a certin amount
of bread in the shortest time. I was called up to face off against Ronald from Year 10, which I won by a clear margin despite
a painful contraction in my chest every time I swallow, an ominous afflication that I've had since this morning.
SATURDAY 16th APRIL
We had planned another 'white weekend' at Devil's Rock with the Peace Corps, but rain put paid to that idea. It has rained
every day so far this month in Vanuatu's version of April showers.
Instead, the girls, Matt and I went to a fundraiser at Vatuanga, a village just past Ndui Ndui on the opposite side to
Londua, where Lynrose comes from. It was supposed to be in aid of our newly maternal computer teacher, but we didn't see her
all evening. The string band was excellent, with highly danceable renditions of all the classics like "Natasha," "Gel
Pentecost" and "Aelan Dress," and the kava was strong. All in all, a very enjoyable night.
MONDAY 18th APRIL
Stephen and I went for kava together this evening. Initially, he said that he couldn't come out due to a lack of money,
but agreed to when I offered to buy him a couple of shells. When we got to the Toa bar, however, he insisted on paying for
all his shells, one of mine and a Lemonade to remove the taste. Maybe he's got a secret stash of kava money that he doesn't
want Sarah to know about...