Saturday, August 05, 2006

Black Magic Miracles

Before I start this post, let me clarify two things. First, I'm incrediably emotional right now, prone to tears and fits of bursts of poetic sentimentality at any given moment. Second, my grasp of the English language has greatly detoriated by the constant use of Bislama for communication. So, please bare with me.

After five weeks without electricity, running water*, or any sort of privacy whatsoever, we returned to Port Vila for our debriefing. What had seemed like a tiny town when we initially arrived in Vanuatu seemed like an ever-humming metropolis. As our van drove us from the airport back to the Scouthall, Becca and I cowered in the backseat, covering our eyes. The stimuli was too much to absorb, and we weren't sure where to look. The sight of other white people was shocking, and the glow of electric lights was harsh on our eyes. We had, after all, been living in the middle of the jungle for the previous five weeks, with nothing but the weak glow of kerosene laterns at night.

On the day before we were set to leave Vila, I got incrediably sick. I had just finished a round of antibiotics for a sinus infection** and was relieved to finally feel somewhat healthy, when I began to feel the worst pain that I have experienced in recent memory. My entire body ached, and I started to hallucinate in the afternoon. I couldn't keep anything down, including water, and by eight in the evening I was told that if my condition didn't improve within the hour, paramedics were on standby to take me to the hospital. My flight to Sydney was for the next day, but my return to Australia wasn't looking too promising since I was too weak to even sit up by myself, let alone pack my bags and board an airplane. I was ready for someone to hand me a bushknife so that I could end my pain.

And then into my room walked Alice, a ni-Van woman who works in the market, and who was catering the wrap-up awards dinner. She climbed into my bug net with me, and told me in Bislama (which I only partially understood [mi save small nomo], because I was not totally coherent [from mi sik tumas]) that her grandfather and father before her had been healers, and had great power in their hands. She proceeded to practice traditional medicine on me, before placing her hands on me chanting something, kissing me firmly on both ears, and praying to God for me.

Within an hour, the pain was gone, and I stopped vomiting.

Now I'm back in Sydney, revelling at all the firsts I have experienced in the last four days. My first cold beverage in five weeks. Sleeping on something other than a concrete floor for the first time in five weeks. Flushing a toliet. Tasting butter again. Tasting pepper again. Drinking a real coffee. Staying up past 10 at night. Listening to something other than stringband music. Seeing cleavage again (which was strangely shocking). Talking in exclusively English. Turning on a tap to see water immediatly flow from it, and reaching out my hand to feel warmth. Seeing my own body in a mirror. (I've lost a lot of weight, built a lot of muscle and have a hysterical tan lines from wearing the same t-shirt to the construction site on a daily basis). Shaving my legs (I thought I had a killer tan, but it turns out that it was just a solid layer of filth encrusted on my body). Turning on light switches. Washing clothes in a machine. . .the list is never-ending.

The funny part is, I'm fascinated by all these things, but I don't really feel like I was taking them for granted prior to my trip. Instead, I feel like I know now that I can live without them (except for the music. . .next time I go on a project like this, I'm bringing my Mp3 player with two month's worth of batteries). I now know how to tell time by where the sun is in the sky within 20 minutes accuracy. I know how to start a fire by blowing on hot embers in exactly the right spot. I can cut open coconuts and drink from them with a bamboo straw. I can mix concrete with nothing more than a shovel and sheer manpower, and push a broken wheelbarrow of cement across a bed of wire.*** I can cut, peel and prepare yam to make fried lap-lap. I can danis [dance] to stringband music. I can weave pigeons out of panadas leaves. And finally, I can carry around a bushknife (which is essentially a machete) without feeling like a fraud.

And apart from my personal achievements, we successfully built a school. At the YCI awards night, we were awarded best project.

I wasn't homesick while I was gone; I was completely comfortable. But the lack of electricity and the length of workdays afforded me with lots of time to think about everyone back home. I found myself thinking about people that I haven't thought about in years, and situations that I thought had escaped my memory. Mi missem yufellas tumas mo mi wantem yufellas taek taek wethem mi long e-mail supposem yu gat taem. [I missed you all and I wanted you to e-mail me, if you get the time or chance.]

I don't know how I can possibly encompass six weeks of life into one blog post, let alone six weeks of life in an isolated jungle community, working construction, and living amongst men who still have fresh in their memories the last time they ate someone. I've decided that in addition to my regular updates about life in Australia, I will also include on a daily basis anecdotes about my time spent in Lambubu, Malekula. But I don't know where I should start. . .

So, what would you like to know?
*We did have running water for one to two hours a day, but we were never entirely sure when that one to two hours a day would start and end. So yes, there were a couple of nights that we would go to bed encrusted with the day's concrete mix.

**Throughout Vanuatu, rubbish is dealt with by burning it. Add to this kerosene fumes and daily concrete dust inhalation, and you've got one hell of a persistant sinus infection.

***One of my favourite aspects about my project is that we were not treated as women on the construction site, we were treated as equals. We were given the benefit of the doubt on any given task, and proved ourselves capable of each one, apart from hammering, which I really suck at because I have no aim. It was physically, emotionally and mentally demanding. I loved it.


  1. Well, let me be the first to say "Welcome Back". Sounds like an incredible journey.

    I want to know about the critters you encountered. Any snakes? Spiders the size of dinner plates? Monkeys? Centipedes? Sloths? Albatrosses?

    I've been living and hiking in the desert for 8 months now, and I still haven't seen (or heard) a rattlesnake. I thought they'd be all over the place when I moved out here! I have seen really cool blue lizzards, though.

  2. glad you had an incredible time. missed you alot. weird as that may seem.

    enjoy the rest of the trip!

  3. Welcome back, sis. Glad to hear you're alive.

    I heard bits of a story about some kava, cultural restrictions on the consumption of said beverage, and a trip to church? Sounds like a story to me. Start there. :-)

  4. 2 parts concret - 1 part water depending on consistancy

  5. Sounds like you had an amazing experience Jess. I can't wait to hear about some of them. Enjoy the rest of your time!


  6. Hi Jessica.
    Really nice to hear you're back and alive. Let's hear some more...just go with the ideas the people above had.
    Maja (this time from Norway)


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