For some reason, there haven't been any eggs for sale here for the past month or so. John and Kate (Australian volunteer Livestock Advisor and wife) were really sweating a few weeks ago, because she had promised a guy who works for John (the one who picked up the wife on Ambrym for 80,000vt.) that she would bake him a wedding cake. He ordered a big white tiered cake with lots of fancy colored trim. White people can do anything, you know. She finally told him that he would have to provide the eggs, so I guess the village of Litzlitz was scoured and 5 were produced. One exploded when she put it down on the counter, another was also rotten, and the other three had chickens in them. Finally, she hit up some expats at Lambubu (Location of Metenesel Estates Ltd., a Commonwealth Development Corporation cocoa plantation. The expats who worked there were good people, but I could write a chapter about the development problems associated with the project.) and got some from their chickens. She made two round cakes, frosted them white with blue trim, and stood the second layer on four toilet paper tubes covered with foil. I hear it went over real big. Willy was really proud that, of the three local weddings in August, his was the only one where the couple's children weren't in attendance - he told John that his was the only "Christian" one. The other weddings occurred because our bud Sister Judith has been having some success at working at these guys to get straight with the church. You know that there is a family involved when it is a "wedding and a blessing". We haven't been invited to a wedding yet, but my ex-counterpart, Lambert, once said we could come to his. I may have told you that he was going to get married last year, but decided to buy a truck instead. His last payment was last month, so he's all set to go. I think woman blong hem is anxious to get on with it, since their one-year-old will be blessed at the same time. I asked him if he had to pay extra for a proven breeder, but I got the impression that this wasn't a joking matter. Maybe we won't get asked to the ceremony, after all.
If you had any smarts, you would move to a house on a hill that you could park your car on in order to get it started. We went through all this nonsense with Olivier, the French doctor, a few weeks ago, when he gave us some rides. Unfortunately, he has an ancient Fiat with an automatic transmission, so you can't just push it to start it. He figured it was just a battery problem, because the engine would turn over until the battery died. I suggested that a tune-up and new air cleaner might work wonders, but he just started driving last December ("Don't be frightened", he told us when he informed us of this as he was taking us to his house one time.), and doesn't know too much about cars. He has learned to hot-wire a car, though, since his ignition switch doesn't work. He brought over a hospital truck one morning after his car died the night before, but the truck then died and had to be push-started. Unfortunately, this skill isn't part of your average Parisien's education, and after exhausting ourselves, I had to explain that the truck wouldn't magically start if you turned the key when it was being pushed - you have to put it in gear and engage the clutch.
(Regarding my sister's summer job at a restored whiskey-trading fort in southern Alberta:) I am looking forward to hearing your harmonica solos. You better not come over here if it bothered you that a kid borrowed your harmonica. All the local pikininis run around with big green "Number Elevens" running down from their nostrils to their mouths. Holly makes them blow before they are allowed in the house. I had one of our toilet paper wrappers saved from the bathroom garbage to send you, but I think Holly threw it away when I was gone last week. I'll find you another one and a sample. It's great stuff - better than Canadian. You only need two squares at a time. Those Chinese really know their toilet paper!
I have a tape of a music contest that I judged that I'll include with this. I had another one of the rest of the contest, complete with our neighbour's combo wailing "I'm feeling mighty fine, I've got heaven on my mind...", but Holly used it to record something else. The choirs and string bands on this tape are pretty good, and the real McCoy. I just took the old "ghetto-blasta" along and set it up in front of my table.
Yes, the girls have had lice, but no, I don't know if they tasted like "yum, yum". We are the only people on the block who don't crack lice between our teeth, you know. I crunch them between my thumbnails, like fleas.
I guess I last wrote you after I took Holly on her dream vacation. Since, we've had our 4-day Anniversary of Malekula Local Government Council blowout on August 18th, which everyone has just about recovered from (I kid you not). People are just now starting to come back to work regularly. It was mostly sports, which I didn't watch, but there was the 7-hour music contest that I judged (luckily one band was late on stage, so I got a quick bathroom break in).
Judging the Bisal Village String Band at the Malekula Local Government Council Anniversary Celebrations. Photo ©S. Combs, 1987.
There we were - three hundred people packed into a small hall (Lakatoro's "Met-Met Club") built of bamboo and thatch, and covered on the outside with dry palm fronds - the stuff I use to light my barbecue -for decoration. Did I mention that all the doors but one are nailed shut? There is an open space between the top of the walls and the roof, but they have barbed wire there to keep vandals out. I don't think I'll attend any more functions there. The final event was an all-night dance on the 18th. I looked in at about 11:00, and it was just as these events had been described to me: boys sitting on one side of the hall, and girls on the other. The music stopped at 6:00 in the morning (we heard it all night up here), and when I went down for work, there were scores of people milling around the soccer field with no way to get home. I was given instructions to grab the green truck, and as with all the other Council vehicles, start ferrying them home. I spent the morning at it - we charged the normal bus fare, of course.
Kwik-Kwik, Malekula's only guinea pig, being shown at a private stall adjacent to the soccer field at the LGC Anniversary Celebrations. Out front was the following notice: "Guinea Pig Show. I gat wan guinea pig (rat blong waet man) istap long stall (barak) ia. Yu we yu neva gat wan chance blong luk wan rat olsem yet, yu save kam askem stall keeper blong luk mo sem taem pem 20vt olsem fee blong luk. So no mestem chance blong yu.". In English: "Guinea Pig Show. There's a guinea pig (whiteman's rat) in this stall (behind). You who've never had the chance to see a rat like this yet, you can ask the stallkeeper to look and at the same time pay the 20 vatu looking fee. So, don't miss your chance." Marie Pauline told us she had raised 500 vatu at that point (about CAN$6.00) toward's her child's school fees. Photo ©S. Combs, 1987.
The celebrants were mostly adolescent men and women - all separate, of course. Some had their little sisters and brothers with them - just because you have to baby-sit, you don't miss a party here. I was told that it was a good time - no fights, which is highly unusual.
Last week, I circumnavigated the island with Ross, the CUSO fisheries officer from Newfoundland, and John, the Australian Livestock Officer. We took this big 10 metre fishing boat that the Japanese Gov't gave four of to Vanuatu. It's useless for fishing, of course, but it has two bunks, so Ross uses it for trips like this. John slept on deck. I was told I had to bring a case (24 tins) of beer as admission. I didn't drink much, but they finished off all 72 cans by Saturday, besides kava every night (any clues towards why I am off kava now?). We left Monday, the 24th, and returned a week later on the 31st. John visited cattle projects, Ross visited fishing projects, and I took a roll of barbed wire to Hokai, so they can keep the cattle out of their water supply. Unfortunately, we ran out of beer the evening that we anchored in this cove that I had scouted out on my previous trips through the islands on the south coast. It was the place that big yacht was anchored when Holly and I went through. John and I went diving that night, but he (who had the torch) saw a 6-ft. shark, so we got back on the boat. John had a dream of catching a big shark, and had brought some special shark hooks and some rotting pig guts along for the job. Ross and I had insisted on tossing the guts a few days previous after we found we could easily find the boat in the dark without a flashlight. Anyway, that was the only night we caught one. It was about 2 ft. and, as the world should be, man ate shark. I finally saw my first shark in the water the next day. It was also 2 ft. and swam away.
The ruin of an old plantation at our anchorage off Sakao Island, South Malekula. Photo ©S. Combs, 1987.
We got a laugh out of this shark business. At every village, the same conversation took place with the locals. We always asked (I'll translate into English for those who don't speak Bislama): "Got any sharks here?" "Oh, yeah, zillions." "Do they bite people?" "Oh no, they just mess around." ("I gat sak lo ples ia?" "O, fulap." "Oli kaekae man?" "No, oli pleple nomo.") When we got to Hokai, where I knew a guy had been chewed on, I had my chance to continue the conversation, which had gone true to form to that point: "Yeah, but what about John Miller?" "Oh, just him." ("Be
Now, where was I?]]
...mi bin harem we wan sak i kakae John Miller." "Hem nomo.") I'm sure glad I've been relying on local knowledge to choose swimming sites so far.
Actually, when we got to Lamap, we did get a different answer: Two years ago, an American tourist on a yacht put her small child in a swim ring or something in the ocean, and a shark came and ate it. That would kind of put a damper on your vacation, wouldn't it?
Whenever we pulled up at a village, a crowd of varying size would show up on the beach to watch us. As it seemed evident that everyone had shown up in hopes that the whitemen would entertain them by sinking their boat, I formulated a theory that the size of the crowd was directly proportional to the number of hidden rocks on the approach to the beach. I fell down in the surf a couple of times when we landed our dingy, which everyone thought was great. John figures that our main function here is to provide entertainment for the locals. (This is, in fact, the primary principal of international development. Prospective advisers who aren't comfortable with this should stay home to avoid supreme frustration.)
We got two reactions from children. At some places, a zillion would come out in outrigger canoes and swarm over the boat. As we looked back from the dingy on our way ashore, the boat would be black with them. On the other hand, one day we were walking around a small island with a ni-Vanuatu, and every time we approached a village kids would start howling and run away. The noise would keep up for several minutes. We asked our guide if we were the cause of all this, and he said "Yes". I've always wanted to have that effect on children. I think we can all guess who parents tell their pikininis will eat them if they don't eat their island cabbage.
Speaking of eating, John asked the guy who got married how people used to eat the missionaries, and Willie told him that they made them into laplap. Whenever we pulled up to a beach, John would claim that he could see the women hurrying off to heat up their laplap stones.
John and I had hard times on the trip; he kept loosing things, and I spent all my time dripping blood on the deck. The first day, half his pipe dropped overboard when he was landing a fish. He had to roll cigarettes the rest of the time. Then a pair of shorts and a T-shirt disappeared, probably overboard. One of his special shark hooks got caught on the bottom and was lost. On the last day, he hooked his gaff into a maemae (a dolphin fish), and it got off the hook and swam away with the gaff.
I stubbed both big toes and scraped the end off another toe while we were on shore. My biggest problem, however was with these three bolts sticking up from the deck of the boat. You wouldn't think that anyone would leave them there after they had removed a piece of equipment (the life raft, of course) - but they lack safety awareness in underdeveloped parts of the world, Newfoundland, in this case. First, I tore a chunk out of my thigh sliding off into the dingy. Worse of all, when the boat was rolling one morning, I kicked a bolt and split the skin right through from the top of the space between my right big toe and the next toe, and my sole. Right were my thong strap goes. It seems to be healing, but I fear I will be permanently disfigured with a scar. To top it all off, my hand slipped when I was trying to pull a shell out of the sand, and my finger hit some coral, flaying the skin off its tip. That really bled for a long time. It's almost healed over now, so perhaps I'll be able to play the guitar again. I don't know how it happened - after all, I had a pair of gloves purchased especially for diving right in my bag back on the boat.
One of the reasons that this boat is useless for fishing is that it rolls a lot. A couple of nights, we just about had to hang onto our bunks by our fingernails, and when we got up, the sea was smooth. I was afraid of getting seasick, so I put one of those patches behind my ear before we left. It worked pretty well, and I didn't get sick; but after we got back, it took two days for the ground to stop moving. You just can't win.
Return to Letters Index.
©S. Combs, 1987