Monday, September 11, 2006

Arriving in Lambubu Island Time Style

Our first true experience with island time happened the day we were set to leave. We woke up early (not that this was unusual since sleeping in past 7:30 a.m. was a novelty and probably only occurred twice in the entire 6 weeks I was in Vanuatu, which is partially a product of a society operating in accordance with the sun, not with technology) to pack and clean up the Scout Hall in preparation for our departure.

Our supplies and rations were divided according to our groups, and we were set to go. The Emua group left around noon in a van for the north of Efate Island, where they would be planning and executing a Youth Skills Summit. The Lalinda group (Ambrym Island- known for its volcanos) and my group (Malekula Island- known for its cannibalism) headed into town to get some last minute supplies before we boarded the boat that evening. We were eager, excited, and ready to leave the Scout Hall (or as I liked to call it, the "Scat Hole" which is what the name sounds like when you say it with an Australian accent). Knowing that we were on the brink of a life-changing adventure was wearing on our nerves, and to use my favourite phrase, we were ready for action.

It wasn't until we headed back to the Scout Hall to reconvene before we headed down to the pier that we were informed that the weather was too rough to leave Port Vila.

"The weather?!" I scoffed, annoyed. "My parents sail. I'm sure we'll handle rough seas fine." Jo, whose parents also sail, agreed with me, and we cockily agreed there was no way we would get seasick. The entire group was dissapointed but we made the best of the situation by heading across to the Island Resort for a day at the beach.

After packing and cleaning again the next morning, we found ourselves finally on our way. We waited at the pier, nervously eyeing the incrediably small boat, and the excessively large crowd. In addition to the surplus of passengers waiting to board the boat, we had three truckloads of gear waiting to be put in the storage of the boat- 4 weeks worth of rations for both groups, as well as all our personal gear. The situation was looking sketchy, and we voiced our fears and concerns as we stood assembly line style, passing boxes, shovels, and sleeping bags onto the boat. "We're going to sink," Jo worried under her breath. I took another motion sickness tablet as a precaution, even though I was sure my stomach could handle the seas.

The one-day wait to leave Port Vila wasn't our first true experience with island time. The boat ride itself was. Told that the boat ride was going to be roughly 15 hours long, we packed and brought enough food and water to last us for the period of time.

26 hours later, we arrived on the shore of Malekula at Lakatoro, very thirsty, very hungry, and very tired.

Personally, I stumbled off the boat with my brand new Port Vila t-shirt covered in vomit. I had been violently ill for the duration of the boat ride, with the only saving grace of the whole experience being woken up to see the glowing embers of Ambrym's volcanos rising out of the dark. Rose, Jo and I had spooned together on the hard metal floor of the boat, frequently being stepped on by people walking to the putrid, lacking-in-toliet-paper-and-a-working-lock bathroom, and getting up only to puke over the side of the boat (which was plastered in the rice dinners of everyone else on the boat who was also sick).

So much for being a sailor.

The crowd at Lakatoro stared at us, several of the children pointing in amazement. I suspect Lakatoro only holds the title of being the capital of the Malempa province because there is a TV in front of their token store. The dock was crowded with chickens and people waiting to board the boat.

The ni-Vans in our group, Rose, Samuel and Iven were nonchalent about the situation. We, however, were completely out of our element, and Tara and Liesa didn't make any effort to blend in. Instead, they filled coconut shells with water and gave them to the chickens that were tied up in bags on the dock. This was our first indication that Liesa would be one of the craziest (in a positive way) group leaders imaginable.

Jo (Canadian) mo Liesa (Aussie)

We loaded our gear into Utes (am I spelling that right?) and excitedly jumped in the bed of the trucks. While I have memories of riding like this down dirt roads in Alberta when I was a kid, I haven't done it in years.

Rose, mi, mo Nicole (Aussie)

The truck ride lasted nearly an hour, and the vomit coating my shirt was soon covered with a thick layer of dust from the roads. The trip went quickly though because we were captivated by the thick jungle vines, the flying foxes filling the sky, and Liesa's demonstration of her incredible (incredibly hilarious, that is) Bislama skills.

"Wanem fruitem upem treeum?" she asked Rose, who looked at her in response with an expression on her face that only read as, "Do I really have to spend a month with this woman?"

Eager to shower after travelling for 28 hours, we unpacked and set up shop after meeting Morsen, our ni-Van group leader, who had arrived in Lambubu before us in preparation. A building on the main drag of Lambubu (which was the main street because it was the only street) was ready for us, with candles lit and woven mats covering the hard concrete floors. This was going to be our home for the next 5 weeks.

"When can we shower?" we asked Morsen, excitedly.

"Um," he said, still nervous with his English, "the water isn't on. And we have to go meet the community."

The shower would have to wait.

We were then led through the village to a school room where we were welcomed by the community with the gift of flower and leaf leis and a meal of rice and yams. Unfamiliar faces introduced themselves, and the Australians and Canadians struggled to introduce themselves in Bislama.

"Name blong mi Jess, mi blong Kanada, mo mi happy tumas to be here."

Looking around the room at their faces, I felt a sudden wave of gratitude. I felt incredibly lucky and blessed to be in their community, and suddenly understood that my purpose in the community was shifting. I was not only there to help, I was there to learn.

Iven, Dave (Canadian), Samuel

The next morning, we got up, again eagerly wanting to wash. "Can we go shower?" we asked Morsen.

"Um, the water starts, I don't know, maybe 3?" he told us. This estimation was, of course, in island time. The characteristic feature of island time is that when someone says three hours, it could mean 10 hours or it could one hour, but you're never really quite sure which.

We passed the time by setting up our home. A cooking and cleaning schedule was devised, and mosquitos nets were re-hung (the previous night we had done everything in complete darkness, which we were soon to be accustomed to). The boys exerted their manliness by building furniture (which fell apart the next day), and nailed hooks into the walls for our things. We divided our rations into 4 weeks in the storeroom, and went to the contruction site where we would be starting work the next morning.

But one thing was still on our mind. The shower.

At 3 p.m. we ran to check if the water was on.

But of course, it wasn't.

"Oh, maybe it comes on at, I don't know, 6 p.m.?" Morsen told us.

We groaned. A new plan was devised. We would go down to the ocean.

"Hamas taem to go long saltwata?" We were told it was a three hour walk, but I quickly pointed out that
no one knew exactly how far away it was, since 3 hours was an island time estimation.

"How about we walk for an hour and if we don't hit the ocean, we'll turn around?" I suggested. We all agreed, and headed out of the village, led by two little girls who engaged us in a conversation that was a hybrid of Bislama and elementary school English.

Forty minutes later, we were there.

Our home. The left side door is our room, seperated into boys and girls to meet cultural standards, the middle door was our small storeroom and the right hand room is our "open-air concept" dining and kitchen area.

Becca mo mi

In Bislama, swim means "to swim" but it also means "to wash." The ocean was as good as we were going to get. (This logic somehow stuck with me even when I was in Australia, and I stopped showering almost entirely because I went swimming every day. I told Jo insistantly, "It's the same word in Bislama, and therefore it's the same thing." She still made fun of me, though.)

There was a boat waiting at the shore to paddle us across the freshwata to the saltwata.

Dave, Becca, Samuel

Over 48 hours after leaving Port Vila, I was finally able to wash away the filth of the boat, sweat from the humid heat, my own vomit, and the road's dust. I floated in the water, playing with the little girls who had accompanied us there, unable to believe that this was going to be the next month of my life.

And the next day, I would officially be a construction worker.


  1. I always knew you had a thing for construction workers.... but never thought you would ever be one! I am proud of you kiddo! "Sometimes you need to go a little further.."

  2. Hi Jess,
    I just read this now. Not that I wasnt planning on reading it, just usually I am short attention span with the internet and so I was putting it off until I could moreso settle into it. Honestly amazing, makes my world feel smaller. I think considering yyour ecperiences that paper bag princess is an appropriate costume for you this year. Uhh that is a dumb thing to say but seriously, I liek to get weirdly into my costumes in some vaque way relating it to the year. errrr
    see you soon

  3. I enjoy this post immensly. So much food talk. I love coconut milk, and would use it in most anything I make in the kitchen. It is amazing what you can learn from taking the simplistic approach sometimes.


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