. . . We also have lots of time for reading and stuff. I just finished "The Mosquito Coast", which I started the day of Cyclone Uma (6-7 February), but took a month to dry out . . .
I bought a guitar and uke in Santo (Luganville) on the way here, and have been learning new songs in my Hank Williams book ("Honky Tonk Blues" after I listened to it on Huey Lewis's "Sports" album and my "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" album) and from the Readers' Digest Children's Music Book I brought (Muppets songs and show tunes - "It's not easy being green..." or "We're off to see the Wizard..."). I'm going to also learn a bunch of songs off some of the albums we brought. Don't let me get in your way if you want to send any music from your collection. Our new instruments are made in China and very good quality for the price (of course, we had to sort through a lot of junk at the same price at every store in Vila and Santo): 500 vatu for the uke and 3600 vt for the guitar (that's about CAN$6 and $44 respectively). I'm going to put nylon strings on the guitar (just happened to bring a set I had laying around home) and cut down the bridge so the strings are closer to the fret board (I'm told this known as "lowering the action" in geetar lingo). We're also all madly learning all of these string games (you know, cup and saucer, cat's cradle, etc.) from two books Heather got for Christmas.
Everyone else around here, ni-Vanuatu and expatriate, spends all of their spare time watching videos. I think that's how ni-Vanuatu get their knowledge of North America. They only, as far as I have seen and discussed with them, watch the worst garbage - Rocky IV, Rambo, Chuck Norris, Commando, etc. I've also seen people watching junk taped off Australian TV - a kid's talent show (awful) and some "Porky's"-style movie.
We are well settled in. We would eat more coconuts, but I haven't bought a coconut scraper yet This is a serrated crescent-shaped blade attached to a board. You sit on the board with the scraper sticking our in front and scrape out the meat from half a shell. To get coconuts, we just pick them off our lawn. Holly has developed a mean arm with a busnaef (bushknife, or machete) and just whacks off the husk before cracking the nut open with the blunt edge. A bushknife is a necessity of life here. Everyone has one and uses it for an all-purpose axe, jackknife, hedge-trimmer, pruning saw, shovel, etc., etc. They keep them razor-sharp and just whack away at coconuts, etc. held in their hands - I've shaken hands with several men who seem to have cut the tendons to their fingers like Dad did that time (while castrating an uncooperative boar).
As for the beach, after all that talk about packing my snorkel, I've only used it twice. A week ago, I went for a brief swim at the wharf near here (these names are relative - this "wharf" is technically a "landing stage"; a hunk of concrete sticking into water deep enough for a small motorboat to approach it), and yesterday we finally went to the beach for the first time. It's taken this long to work Heather up to pedaling that far on her bicycle. I can get there in 10 minutes from our house, but we live on the top of a steep hill, so Heather and Holly walk their bikes down (it's mostly loose coarse staghorn coral gravel) - 10 min. - and Heather's pretty slow, so it takes another 20-25 min. to get to the beach. She's getting pretty good, though.
This beach is one of the most popular on the island because no one (that we've spoken to) has seen a shark there (it later turned out we just hadn't asked the right people), whereas they've all seen sharks at all the other beaches. It's off the end of the airport (also relative term - it's a strip of mowed grass with a hut alongside) and is about 1/2 mile of sand with trees providing shade. It's in front of a coconut plantation. I thought the snorkeling there would be lousy because it doesn't seem to have much live coral, but as soon as I got in the water, it was as good as anywhere I've ever been - lots of colored coral and sponges, and a wide variety of small fish. Anything big has been speared and eaten; we see lots of parrot fish at the market. Luckily, the small fish are the most beautiful.
Apparently, the summer (now) is shark season, and they really do eat people around here. This part of the island isn't bad, but there are islands near here where several people are eaten each year. It usually isn't swimmer or divers (although a swimmer had a chunk taken out of his leg two weeks ago off Paama Island), but people splashing or fishing in shallow water.
I'm getting a pretty good farmer-tan, although I still burn if I'm in the sun for a couple of hours. On this island, I've seen 3 albino Melanesians, and they are really in a bad way. Their legs, arms, and heads have lots of sores from the sun, and they can hardly see. One albino boy goes to Heather's school. Three out of a population of 20,000 seems a very high incidence to me. There must be a lot of carriers (I think it's a recessive gene) around here. The government has limited funds, of course, and the big push in the health field is very basic, although theoretically well organized. The Rural Health Department pushes basic nutritional information because there is a fair bit of borderline malnutrition among young children and pregnant and nursing women. Although the place is full of fruit and vegies, the favored diet is very starchy - roots and bananas are traditional, and white rice is a favoured prestige food. Canned fish is another prestige food. There is a fair bit of beef around, with some pork, chickens, lots of fresh fish, and the occasional flying fox (fruit bat - 100 vt each at the market). Beef and pork are, of course, "lumpy"; you can't just kill enough for one family meal, so in a place like this without refrigeration they are usually only eaten at community feasts. Everything has coconut milk added - you grate the meat, add water, and squeeze out the milk. Rural Health is pushing peanuts as a healthy food crop and as a legume to add nitrogen to the soil. Anyway, there obviously isn't any money for programmes for handicapped people, like albinos.
Malekula's only doctors (husband and wife) just went home to France. We're supposed to get another one sometime. I think the nearest Doctor is now at the hospital in Santo (Luganville, Vanuatu's second largest urban concentration, is on the Island of Espiritu Santo. It is variously called "Luganville" on the map, "Santo" on all other islands, and "Kanal" on Espiritu Santo. It is 15 minutes north of Norsup by scheduled plane). There is a nurse here in Lakatoro and some at the Norsup Hospital. There is also a small lab there. Heather had a fever for a couple of days one-and-a-half weeks ago with no other symptoms, so Holly took her in for a malaria test, which was negative.
. . . Despite what everyone told us about children learning languages instantly, neither Heather nor Laurel has picked up more than two phrases of Bislama. Since the kids at Heather's school don't speak any English, I don't know how she communicates. She is ahead of most of her fellow students, though, because she had four months of French-Immersion kindergarten in Canada. The ni-Vanuatu kids in her First Grade class are getting their first exposure to French.
Heather's teacher still doesn't know her name, although we registered her in writing and have written a couple of notes to the teacher on the subject. Her stuff comes back labeled "Hedrada". Laurel brought a picture of a red fish home from Kinder that was labeled "ORONG", which we assumed was the local name of the fish. It turned out that her teacher thought that was Laurel's name! (I have trouble with unfamiliar names, too.)
Heather thinks her school is great because it's across the road from the ocean - no beach, just a coral shelf - and she can play there picking up shells and stuff before and after school - the bus service is irregular, to say the least. She got home at 17:00 the other night because a previous passenger wanted to go way up island - you don't get that kind of service in Canada!
Laurel's kindergarten class paints with their fingers because they don't have any brushes. Laurel's complaint is that some boys in her class keep touching her hair. She now wants to stay home, but Holly won't let her. Laurel goes 8:00-11:30 weekdays here in Lakatoro in a semi-open bamboo building with attached corrugated iron outhouse ("smolhaus" here). It costs 2500 vt every 4 months. They play and paint on the back of scrap paper.
Yesterday, in a fit of guilt, I asked the girls if they liked it here, and they both agreed it was better than Canada. Heather liked her school and the fact that we could go on long bike rides (?? - Our previous 2 trips had been ordeals of crying, falls, and strong persuasion). Laurel likes all the kids to play with. There are lots of kids, and we can just let the girls run around, rather than keeping them locked in the backyard like at home.
Aop Beach, Makekula. End of airstrip and buildings in far background. Photo ©S. Combs, 1987.
Malekula LGC Regional Development Planner hard at work on Aop Beach. Photo ©H. Morgan, 1987.
My daughters demonstrating grooming techniques learned on the school playground. ©S. Combs, 1987.
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©S. Combs, 1996.