Friday, October 27, 2006

Yumi wan bigfella family!

Friday, July 7th, 2006

Tomorrow we're going to visit our host families for the entire day. Everyone except for me is excited about this. I'm not, because I completely lack the ability to make small talk, and there's no way I can effectively do it in Bislama. I'm also not looking forward to another 6 am day.

The truth is, out of everyone in my group, I was absolutely terrified to meet and spend time with my host family. For most of the participants, the entire first week was spent speculating what our host families would be like.

On Wednesday, most of our families came to the worksite to meet us for the first time. When I met Kathy, I was absolutely filthy and sweaty. It was around noon, and the heat was blistering. "Mi happi tumas to meet yu!" I told her. I didn't know what to say. Small talk is definitely not my fortay. It was obvious that English wasn't her strength either, and while the other families stood around chatting and eagerly acquainting themselves with one another, Kathy and I stood there awkwardly, not sure what to say to one another.

After meeting our families, everyone on the construction site was buzzing. "My Dad is taking me to plant yams," Dave told us proudly. "I think my family is taking me swimming," Tara contributed. "My mom is taking me to get peanuts in the garden," Jo said, also excited. "What is your family doing?" they asked me.

"Um. I don't know," I said weakly, "we didn't talk about it."

I was glad to have a host family, but wasn't sure I could spend the entire weekend with them. I was skeptical and nervous about the entire concept. Kathy seemed nice enough, but what would we talk about? My Bislama vocabularly only had about 10 words in it. And what would we do for an entire day?

My host sister Lissy in a cocoa tree

Sunday, July 9th, 2006

I can't remember the last time I got up at 6 am to walk an hour to go to church. Oh wait--that's because I never have. Until today.

Yesterday I met up with my hostmom in Laravet and had the most amazing day. It was simple, but enjoyable. We had tea, then walked to the gardens. The gardens aren't conventional Western garden plots with neat rows and markers. Instead, they're a disarray of fruits that I didn't even know existed in a random location in the bush.

Kathy told me in Bislama (she doesn't speak English but she understands some, which works for me), "I prayed to God for a white misses to come, and you came. We are different and have different colour skin, but we have one heart." It was the sort of speech that would usually make me gag, but it was genuine and heartfelt.

One of my sisters (I think she's my sister- I'm confused about who is "related" to me because I have 7 brothers and sisters and there's always about 10 other extended family members hanging around- I do know that Jo and I are first cousin twofold, though) is pregnant. They told me that if it's a girl, they will name it Jessica.


"You are the first whiteperson to visit my house," she told me. "You are going to be the first person's house I visit in Vanuatu!" I told her.

There is one hut with two bedrooms where Kathy and her husband sleep, a kitchen hut with a coal fire pit and a dining hut. It's simple, but lovely, like everything else here. Everyone is so generous here. They have nothing, but we all came home with our arms laden with every type of fruit imaginable. 
Kathy also wove me a hat and fan (because I looked "hot tumas!" when she met me on the worksite) and a basket.

Needless to say, my concerns were unwarranted. I ended up having an amazing, relaxing day with Kathy in the "bush" on our walkabout. She told me about all the different fruits and things growing, and told me about how she had prayed for me for so long. She was bubbly and talked constantly, laughing at everything. And there was something distinctly maternal about Kathy, which I took a lot of comfort in.

Tara, Nicole, Jo, Dave and I all went to Laravet on Saturdays and Sundays to visit our host families. Laravet was an hour walk through the jungle away. First, we would walk past the construction site, down Jessica Hill (it was named after the first person to fall down it, which was, of course, me, although I must clarify that I actually fell *up* it) past the phone, and through the cocoa plantation. Once in Laravet, we'd go our seperate ways, but sometimes join up for group activities.

Jo and I would often spend the weekends together because her host parents weren't around as much, and Kathy was her Aunt. (We were cousins twofold because her father Luis, the chief of Laravet, was my Kathy's brother, and her mom Tulsi was my dad's sister. In Vanuatu, because of the bride tax, families often essentially "trade" children so that neither party has to pay the bride tax. I can't remember exactly how much the bride tax is, but if my memory serves me correctly it's about 8000 vatu, or $800, but it can also be made up in pigs, yams, mats, etc. Because it's so expensive, marriage arrangements like the ones in our family are fairly common).

My host sister Lissy (8-years-old) and my niece. Lissy may look sweet and cute, but the truth is, she was actually rather demonic and was the only child in Vanuatu I ever heard complain. She constantly threw tantrums (to the point where she had to be restrained) and then there was the spider incident, in which she tried to creep me out by sticking a spider the size of my hand in my face. When I was like, "Oh, that's nice Lissy," she tried to provoke me further by dismembering the spider limb-by-limb, and then presenting me the abdomen as a gift. It's actually a good thing she was my sister, because I don't know if some of the other participants could have dealt with her.

One of the days, we went down to the saltwata, and the caves as an activity. This is Jo's sister Mellie, holding up a crab. Laravet used to built close to the ocean and the place where they get their freshwata, but the threat of tsunamis, typhoons and earthquakes (Vanuatu is on the part of the earth where all the volcanic activity and earthquakes occur- this is the least scientific description I could possibly give, but you know what I mean...there's some plate tetonic activity or something going on there!) caused them to move their village up further away from the ocean. As a consequence, they don't have access to fresh drinking water, and have to hike down the very steep hill (we actually literally slid down it- it's less a hill, and more of a mountain-side) to get water, and hike back up again. They do this daily. The walk itself takes at least 1/2 hour.

Adeline was Tara's host-cousin. She was taken in my Tara's hostparents. She had the best laugh, and was really friendly with us.

My host-sister Julie was 17 and the teacher of the kindergarten class in Laravet. My brother Tom was 24 and occasionally worked cutting lumber with my Dad. We bonded over kava. I admit that I may have had a bit of an island crush on him. What can I say? I really liked the way he handled his bushknife!

On the day I left, he came to say goodbye and gave me a parting gift of roasted nuts on a stick. What a man!

Dave and I wearing the hats that Tulsi and Kathy made for Jo and I.

On the first day I met Kathy, she told me proudly, "Mi makem yu wan fan, mo wan basket mo wan hat. Bae Jo- hem i gat no hat. Nicole? Hem i gat no hat. Tara? Hem i gat no hat. Yu nomo." (In otherwords, everyone else is getting a fan and a basket, but only you got a hat.) Later that day, when Jo came walking down the garden path also wearing a hat, Kathy was dissapointed.

When Dave's dad saw him wearing Jo's hat, he asked Dave, "Yu wantem hat?" "Oh, no, aren't they for girls?" Dave said. "No, no, they're for men too," Peter insisted. "Yu wantem hat? I'll make you a hat!"
Our host families were fiercly competitive about giving us the best fruit, making us the best gifts, and providing us with the best activities. It was endearing.

Kathy and I had a little tearfest when it was time for me to leave. (I actually ended up staying 1 and 1/2 weeks after this photo was taken since we were trapped in Lambubu for so long).

The extended Laravet host families in my mom's house for our going-away dinner.

Mommi blong mi!

My dad (whose name I never quite figured out, shamefully enough), Tyson, Tom, Kathy, Lissy and Julie.

Jo's host family: Luis (the chief of Laravet), Melissa, Melli, one of her host-brothers, and Tulsi.

Yumi wan bigfella familie! (This is the name of a well-known song at church). We're one big family!

All the host moms and the daughters in their new island dresses: black Joanna (who was actually a host-sister), Nicole, Kathy, me, Tara, Bertha, Meriam (Tara's little sister), white Joanna and Tulsi.

As a parting gift, Kathy made Jo and I matching island dresses. (Here we were clearly illustrating the camouflaging capacities of the dresses on Rose). I don't think I need to explain why this is awesome on so many different levels. The dresses were matching, but different styles, and the fabrics were alternated differently. Also, they were modelled on different people. Jo's dress was sewn to fit Lissy, my 8-year-old host sister, while Julie served at the model for my dress.

Oh, and as for that baby that was supposed to be named after me? Well, that's actually the best story:
My aunt (it wasn't my sister, it turned out was Kathy's sister who was pregnant) wasn't due until September, but she unexpectedly went into labour during Independance Week celebrations at the end of July. We were scared, because the baby was not only premature, but it was rumoured the mother had malaria or other complications. No one seemed to know what was going on (behold life without telephones or Internet!) and my mother had been gone to the hospital with her host-sister for nearly a week, when I finally recieved news she was back.

It was a boy.

So there's no little girl named Jessica living in Laravet.

Later that week, Kathy took me on a "walkabout" around the stalls in the field to buy me some madarins and coconuts. "What did they name the baby?" I asked. "There is no name yet," she said,

"What do you think a good name for a boy would be?"

"How about Cameron?" I suggested, thinking of my Grandma's maiden name. I've always been somewhat partial to it.

Kathy didn't seem enthusiastic about the suggestion, but agreed the baby should be named Cameron. On our walkabout, one of the stall ladies asked what the baby had been named, "Um, um, K-k-... What was it?" Kathy asked me. "Cameron. You don't like that, do you?" I asked her. She admitted she didn't.

"How about Andrew? Andrew nam blong brother blong mi." I told her. Kathy's face instantly lit up in a smile.

"Andrew," she confidently told the stall lady, "Name blong baby Andrew."

So that's the story of how there is a little baby boy in Laravet that I got to name after my very own brother.

As if they hadn't already given me enough.


  1. Hey Jessica!
    Wow, what an amazing entry! Really informative and excellent!! My dad's a desendent from Tanna so i've been over to Vanuatu a few times and it's definately one of my favourite places on earth! I was laughing at some of the stuff you were writing cause alot of it rings true! Ni-Vans are incredibly generous and hospitable, it's amazing! And their family system is one to be admired! My cousins have so many grandmas and grandpas and aunties and uncles and cousins and neices it's funny! So they become mine too! Iloved your pictures, it reminded me so much of my cousins and how much i want to go back there. I so wish i could have gone on that bush walk - that's what i love abotu Vanuatu - the nature and the scenary! It's absolutely gorgeous! And yes, i can understand how you had abit of an island crush on Tom!! You looked great in your mother hubbard as well!!!! i love them!
    Anyway, great entry again, it made me abit sick for Vanuatu!

  2. Theme song suggestion:
    Island Girl -elton John

  3. excellent journal and fab pics!


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