. . . Last week, Holly saw a sign advertising a bazaar at the Catholic Church at Norsup on Labour Day (yesterday), so we went. It was supposed to start (like everything here does) with a church service at 8:00, so we thought if we left on bicycles from here at that time, we would get there at 9:00, late enough to miss the service but early enough to get the good buys. As it turned out, we didn't get started until 9:00 and when we got there at 10:00, the service was still going, as they always are. We went for a walk until we saw people walking by with Bibles and then went back. It turns out that a church bazaar here is somewhat different from one in Canada.
There wasn't anything for sale, but several stalls selling fruit and food and a couple of the type of games where you put your money on a color and they spin a big wheel. At one stall the prize was money (200vt from 14 colors at 20vt each, or a 71.4% return to the bettor); the other place gave 2 kg of sugar or flour or a carton of cigarettes (retail value approx. 200 vatu) on 15 colors at 20vt each (66.7% return to bettor). A third place had a real money machine. This guy sat at a table with 6 places marked with spots from the sides of a die. After 6 people had put 20vt each on the 6 places, he rolled the die. The winner got 100vt and he kept 20vt. The 83.3% return to the bettor was the best of all, but the turnover was much faster than the other games. I timed him at about 5 throws every 2 minutes, which meant that he was taking in 5x60/2x20=3000vt per hour. Not bad in a place where a labourer makes 70vt per hour.
We went over and introduced ourselves to some people who we've been meaning to meet: the new French Doctor and wife (she's from Martinique) with a 6-yr.-old son and 5-mn.-old daughter, and a woman who's the gov't educational inspector and her husband, also French (they have a sailboat and I wanted to grill them). Being the only anglophones, we struggled along in fractured French and bastardized Bislama. The priest who had given the service, which turned out to be a confirmation ceremony, was also there. Occasionally, someone would say a few words of English and, as far as I was concerned, no-one spoke it all that well, but Holly thought the Priest must have learned his in North America because it didn't sound too British, so she asked him where he had learned English. He advised her that he had been born and brought up near Boston (no wonder I thought English was his second language). We also met three of the nuns from New Zealand that are based near here. Since all of these people were going to the confirmation lunch, we went along with them.
After lunch, dancing was featured. We thought it was going to be real traditional stuff - you know, like they always have at the Tiki-Tiki Restaurant. It turned out to be a local talent show. The first skit was some women doing a custom dance after finishing off a bottle - some of them started twisting, etc. Then we had an air band (yes, the worst of western civilization has reached even here) and something about a cowardly soldier. Then some local dude with a Rastafarian hairdo and tight red pants who had seen too many rock videos led the first of 3 group dance numbers. The first was with about 30 girls and resembled an aerobics class. Then the ever-popular (here) "We Are The World". Later he returned with about 10 young men who looked like they were on their coffee break from loading copra for 2 or 3 other numbers. Unfortunately, he was the only one who was really committed. When they part where they were supposed to do the "bee's knees", most of them looked pretty embarrassed and just faked it.
The big hits, however, were skits put on by the young men, with humor that more than bordered on anal fixation (don't forget that this was a church function - no accounting for taste, I guess). It probably lost something in translation, but one popular number involved two guys who hunting something at night with torches (which in real life kept burning their hands - I got a laugh out of that part), that went out. Some other guy was covered in burlap with eye holes and was on all fours. A red hibiscus was pinned to his derriere, which he was waving around. Apparently one guy stumbling around in the dark took this hibiscus for a spark and tried, at length, to restart his torch by putting it next to the flower and blowing on it. The further he stuck his nose up there, the more the crowd howled. I have no idea what type of animal or monster or spirit being or whatever the burlap guy was supposed to be. The real big laughs were reserved for aother delicate number about a guy who was fishing and suddenly had to move his bowels (no detail was spared - he had on an extra pair of jockey shorts on with a piece of papaya shoved in the back). Just as he was wiping himself with a stick, he got a big strike, and needing both hands to play the fish, put the stick between his teeth. The crowd went wild.
Man in skit attempts to light his cigarette, while companion looks on. Photo ©S. Combs, 1987.
We finally got to some real live custom dancing. About 30 women did a couple of dances wearing a close approximation of custom dress - lavalava skirts with brassieres (basket blong titi or titiklos in the vernacular), some modestly draped with handkerchiefs. It's the closest I've seen ni-Vanuatu women to naked, and it was not a pretty sight. Holly had seen a couple of the women buying their lavalavas at a store in Norsup on Wednesday, and they had shown her how to properly tie them on. Unfortunately, the lavalavas shipped here for sale are rejects of ones made in Hong Kong or somewhere for the tourist trade - three of the women were wearing ones boldly emblazed with "LOOKING IS FREE, BUT TOUCHING WILL COST YOU". I hope it comes out in our pictures.
Well, the declaration on the lavalavas didn't come out in the pictures. Photo ©S. Combs, 1987.
I went over to the priest and told him that he would do them a kindness if he translated their lavalavas for them, but I don't think he had noticed. I started talking with him, and asked him how long he had been here, and he said 39 years. I had visions of a lonely martyr ministering to his flock in a forgotten corner of the world, and asked him if it had all been with this church, and he said yes, then hesitated and said it had been on several different islands. I thought I had found a vast source of local knowledge and during the conversation asked him some local questions, which he seemed a little vague on. He kept referring to Vila and told me that I should drop in some time if I was there. I finally started catching on, and asked him if he was based in Vila. I guess he caught on to, as he replied yes, he was from Vila and introduced himself as Bishop Lamont. How in the heck are you supposed to know these things these days - he wasn't even wearing a black shirt or white collar, so I thought I was doing good identifying him as a priest. You'd think they would wear a sign or something. I had noticed that he was wearing a big gold ring, and thought it was nice for the Catholic Church to buy nice jewelry like that for everybody out in the sticks. Later, of course, I noticed that everyone he said "Hi" to was kissing it. He told me that his grandparents were from Quebec.
Holly, the kids and I were all getting ready to leave when he asked me if I'd go with him and a friend to the nakamal. I thought that it wasn't everyday that the Bishop of Vanuatu offers to shout you a shell of kava, so I said, "Sure". It was a good move, because besides getting an explanation from him about how Kava is prepared, I met a couple of guys who work at Lakatoro that I should have met long ago: the heads of the Labour office and Public Works. I'm just going to have to spend more time drinking kava. The Bishop told me that the Church was, while not exactly pushing kava, encouraging its use as a substitute for alcohol.
Michelle, the education person, is giving Conversational French lessons in Norsup every Thursday evening, and we have a date with Sister Judith for rides there.
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©S. Combs, 1987.