Well, here we are in Lakatoro! After spending a week studying Bislama (Mi toktok smolsmol Bislama.), we were originally to spend some time on the island of Tanna with a Regional Development Planner who's been here six months, but Tanna was hit hard by Cyclone Uma, and I still haven't heard from him.
I was told that a house was ready for us in Lakatoro, but the furniture was in a warehouse in Vila under the control of the Public Works Department. So, we went to Luganville on Espirito Santo (both island and town known locally as just "Santo") last Sunday to visit a Regional Development Planner (RDP) who's been here three months. I didn't learn a lot about the job from him, but we spent four days buying household food, guitar, and ukelele (we got a ghetto-blaster in Vila). I also spent the time phoning here to let them know I was coming and put a bit of pressure on re: scrounging up temporary furniture. It was finally agreed that we would come on Thursday.
Upon arrival, we were met at the airport by the President, Secretary, and Assistant Secretary of the Lakatoro Local Government Council, a CUSO Fisheries Officer who lives here, and a Council member.
Lakatoro is a collection of about 50 houses spread up a hill, well treed with the grass mowed under them and various bushes well trimmed. The LGC has the reputation of really being on the ball - witness the quick organization of my furniture - and this town is apparently a showpiece. It's like living in a well-maintained park. Most of the houses are concrete - its definitely not a village situation, which means we'll miss some of the "experience", but it should be quite comfortable.
Our house is just like the big mansion that Mom and Dad had in Padang, Indonesia, except it's the servants' quarters out back behind the big house that the British District Agent used to live in. We have 2 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom, all of which would fit into our living and dining rooms in Victoria. You have to go outside to get into the bathroom. We have running cold water (the girls really love those showers) and electricity from a bit after 6 AM until about 11 PM or so. Actually, the house is quite nice. It was abandoned for the past several years and renovated for us.
Our house. A mango tree is in front of it to the right. ©1987, photo by S. Combs.
When we first entered the house, I was amazed to find that a new electric fridge/freezer and a new gas stove had been installed. A double bed had been built (finished that morning - stain marked our sheets) and a few pieces had been borrowed from here and there - screened food cabinet, table w/chairs, and 2 beds for the girls. A coffee table arrived today - stain came off on my hands.
The 1979 census I have here says that the average house of this size here in rural Vanuatu has 6 people living in it; 3 if it is occupied by expats. Also, on Malekula only 2.6% of the houses have a refrigerator and 3.7% a stove - we have both. 4.6% have running water, 5.0% have a shower, and 3.4% have a WC in the house. 1% have electricity, although 81.0% have their own kitchen. So, I guess we're right up there in the high-rent district. (At this point, I had no idea of what village living arrangement are, although I knew villagers wouldn't have power or running water. Most families have a sleeping house, with a separate "bush kitchen". Any showers are communal, drinking water comes from a stream or open well or a common standpipe. Typically, the bush is the toilet.)
A peek into our small kitchen, complete with propane stove and cold running water. ©1987, photo by S. Combs.
I make 55,000 vatu/mn (CAN$670) and CUSO gives Holly 30,000 vt or CAN$365 every month. I also get the house and utilities provided.
Lakatoro is really nice, although it's not a little native village sitting on a white sandy beach where I could take a dip before breakfast, like I envisioned. It's a collection of about 50 government houses, mostly concrete like ours (but a few made of bush materials, i.e. woven bamboo walls with natangura (sago palm) thatch, a school, some offices, and a small store (everything behind counter - two more stores are at Norsup, 8 km north) and a bank (one small room with a counter to the outside and a small floor safe inside). The buildings are set on the side of a hill and we are on the top edge, just where the deepest, darkest, jungle starts. All the grass under the trees is mowed, so it looks like a big park. There are lots of shrubs that are houseplants in Canada and coconut palms. Near our house is sugar cane, grapefruit, limes, mangoes, papaya, mandarin oranges, bananas, and sour oranges. I've been trying to find out which ones we have picking rights on - so far we're OK on the citrus trees, the papayas, the sugar cane, and the mangoes (although the season is finished on those).
Anyway, I think we'll be quite comfortable. We hung the mosquito nets last night - all the windows are well screened. We have our share of ants, but no geckos or lizards yet - nowhere to hide yet. A couple of big cockroaches last night. Rat droppings this AM, so I got a trap today. I'll probably just catch one of the girls. The rats are small here. The house was recently renovated, but a few holes were left in the ceiling. The rats come through a hole under the door, I think. (From the smell, they live under the sink - job #1.)
Sunday, 22 February, 1987
We went to the "big market" in Norsup yesterday and checked out the livestock - 1000 vatu (82 vt = $1 CAN) for a weaner pig, 300 for a chicken, 100 for 5 crabs (all alive), and 100 for a flying fox (dead). Like greenhorns, we bought the only papaya there and later found out that nobody buys or grows them here - they just knock one down from all the trees that grow like weeds when they want one. We also bought 2 grapefruits and then discovered 2 trees full of them next to our house. I have to talk with Keith Mala (LGC Secretary) to find out if we have picking rights.
Tuesday, 24 February, 1987
We had our first earthquake at 4:00 this AM. I would have slept through it, but Holly woke me. It was just a little one, but the house and bed did shake back and forth - I was on my back, and it set my guts sloshing back and forth.
Life has settled into a battle with millions of little black ants. It's the same as at home - if you keep the place clean, they stay away. Right now, for instance, the place is almost free of ants. Put one speck of food out though, and thousands of them show up instantly. They usually cover the table before we have finished our meals. Most of the time, there is a line of them coming our of their favorite hole in the ceiling and down the wall, with another line retracing their steps. Once in a while, you look over, and a big black lump is moving up the wall - a pack of them carrying a bug, bread crumb, or a piece of food. I see one making a beeline for that hole right now; probably going to get his friends.
I met with the LGC Secretary, Assistant Secretary, and Executive Assistant yesterday. It turns out CUSO hadn't bothered sending my resumé or any information to them - they knew nothing about me except my name. I gave them a condensed version of my resumé, and they seemed pleased. I then asked them what they wanted me to do for them. CUSO told me I'd be going out and communing with "the people" - helping them realize their hopes and dreams. Well, my compatriots did mention that, but it came through loud and clear that my first priority is to plan enterprises that will make the LGC a profit. They are desperate for funds. The central government has given them the right to collect head tax (1000 vatu/year) and sell business licenses. Most people won't pay tax because they don't think the LGC does anything for them and before independence the colonial powers provided everything free, or because they aren't in the money economy and have no source of funds. The central government has told the LGCs to get into business.
Its going to be a good place to work. My counterpart is well educated, having spent four years at a seminary before he decided not to be a priest, and he is an experienced administrator. He designed the administration system that all the LGCs use and has a few years's experience with the central government. He tells me all decisions are by consensus with input from everyone involved. I hope it works well; this LGC has a good reputation.
Friday, February 27, 1987
Guess what! There's something that I need and can't get here! They only sell up to size 11 1/2 thongs, so please try to find me 2 pr. of size 12 1/2 (12 1/2 in. long) with nylon straps and send them airmail with a low price marked on the outside (cheap rubber ones go for CAN$1.50 here). Duty is very high here. My thongs are just about worn out. They got lots of big chunks of glass in them when we cleaned up our hotel room after the hurricane, the glass fragments gradually worked up to the top of the soles and had to be removed when they started working into my feet. I'll repay you - how about a nice grass skirt made out of pink plastic baler twine?
Heather started Grade One on Monday. She takes a bus (mini-van operated by the Local Government Council) to a French School 8 km. north of here at Norsup. (The Lakatoro school is English; we had decided to take advantage of the opportunity for the kids to learn another language.) The kids here (there are zillions) don't learn French or English until Grade One, so it is just like French Immersion at home. It took her until yesterday to find the can, and then only after we wrote a note to the teacher requesting that she point it out to Heather.
After the first day, Heather says she started staying inside during recess because all the kids formed a circle and stared at her. So then, they all stood looking in the window until the teacher chased them away. Other expats have told us this also happened to their kids their first couple of weeks in a third-world school. We've told Heather that the sooner she starts playing with the kids, the sooner they'll stop staring. I think she brought some of the attention on by climbing a tree the first day - one of the ni-Vanuatu mothers commented on this to Holly. (We later learned that staring, especially through windows and wall chinks, is a normal ni-Vanuatu expression of curiosity about something new.) For some strange reason. Heather still says she enjoys school and wants to continue with it.
Laurel started Kindergarten here in Lakatoro and says it's lots of fun. Of course, it's all in Bislama, which is the language the kids at Heather's school speak out of Class.
We don't have a TV (although everyone else has video machines), so if you write, we'll answer.
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©S. Combs 1995