The smell of campfire smacked me in the face the second I stepped down from the plane. It was a wash of familiarity amidst the endless swarm of uncertainty. I welcomed it with open arms and took the journey through customs with, maybe not as much excitement as my peers but a reliable tug of optimism. Almost immediately, this was nearly snuffed out. After noticing that I was the only one still waiting for my luggage, I came to the grim realization that the torn bag stuffed inside a large plastic bag was in fact mine. All of its contents spilled out inside it.
I don't know what hit me then, the realization that I was here? That I was actually doing this? Or that I didn't know if all my stuff had made it? All that careful planning shattered in the blink of an eye. Either way, I'm not afraid to admit that I cried. Right there in the airport, as we walked out, greeted by current volunteers and PC staff. Not a great first impression. And for anyone that knows me, an entirely inaccurate reflection of me. The 29 other volunteer (Vols) remained chipper. I was the only freak out. But of course theirs have come since, or will come soon enough. Grandma, the wisest woman I know, told me before I left: "You wouldn't be normal if you weren't nervous." Would it be normal if no tears like mine were shed? I'll hold to that defense.
They moved us to IDS, in Pango village, almost immediately, which is just outside Port Vila (pronounced Veela), the Vanuatu capital. It was about a 20 minute car ride, spent going over the bumpiest, holiest road you have ever experienced. Any poor car sick soul would not have made the trip puke-free. It quickly became apparent that the entire island smells strongly of a perpetually burning campfire.
We've only been here a couple days now but none of the others can pick out the right time, day, month, or year. It seems like we've been here an eternity. It's only when I realize the only thing I can say in Bislama is yes and no, that I have to remind myself that a couple of days is not nearly enough time to absorb an entire language. And I should mention the Bislama for yes and no, is yes and no. Bislama by far is not the most stressful part of my day. I've already become mostly accustomed to allowing small bugs to crawl on my skin, facing the grim reality that the second I brush off one, another will quickly follow. We found a lizard in our room the other night, but otherwise I try not to look for bugs, because if you look, you will find them, every time, immediately.
And then there's the cuisine. Taro, banana stuffed cabbage, and other bizarre foods are cast in the widespread shadow that is Kava, the local drink. You do not have normal bars here, instead they are called Kava Bars. The effects vary, but it supposedly causes relaxation, bright lights to get brighter, noise to get louder, and a slowing down of speech. When you drink too much, walking gets anywhere from difficult to impossible. You drink it facing away from people, so you can spit, and you chug it down as fast as possible. Which all sounds weird until you taste it. The best way I think I could accurately describe it is to say that it tastes like drinking dirty chalk water, with dirt not quite mixed in well enough so that little pieces linger around in your mouth, which is numb in seconds. The drink is made from some kind of root so it makes total sense for it to taste like that. What makes no sense on the other hand, is why anyone would drink this damn stuff. Supposedly in most villages, it is forbidden for women to drink it. Never have I ever been so grateful for gender inequality.
The needle phase has also begun. I have vaccinations later and yesterday I had to do the impossible: poke myself with a needle to draw my own blood. We have to do this to self test ourselves for Malaria. Aside from this being difficult to do, needles are not exactly my strong suite. I had to build up a lot of courage and was coached through it by one of my fellow volunteers. Mom would have laughed at me but I think even she would have found this difficult. I psych myself out enough when other people do it to me, it takes a different sort of courage to draw your own blood. My prick wasn't quite good enough, but Jen, my fellow Vol, squeezed the blood out and I was saved a fourth attempt at it. Hopefully I won't have reason to test myself in the future but god knows what my medical condition will be in 2 years. Apparently enough goes wrong here that they felt the need to give us two medical kits, one more than the PC headquarters gives out. No one leaves unscathed, supposedly. I am not looking forward to whatever it is I end up contracting. The malaria pills we have to take also cause hallucinations and weird dreams so many people stop taking them. All I know is that my mosquito net is already my best friend here.
The weather is something to get used to as well. One day it rained so much and so loudly that our teacher had to stop talking because even though he was shouting louder and louder, we could not hear him over the rain. Rain that back home would have been considered, at the very least, severe. Here, it's normal. The towel that I had used in the morning to dry off after a shower, that had been the slightest bit damp by the way, was now 50 times more soaked than it had been before. I squeezed water out and hung it inside. It still isn't dry. Quick dry towels were obviously not made for the humid South Pacific. And sweating, by the way, is constant and unrelenting.
I had meant to end this on a positive note, an optimistic one about there always being good to take from the bad, but it's hot out and I have a head ache and there is chocolate within a 5 minute walk from me right now, so I am going to sign out for now (not to mention I am getting my vaccinations in about 5 minutes). Hopefully I will have more internet time in about a month or so, but I'm really not sure when the next time I'll be online is. I head to training on Sunday, where I will be out in a village with a host family for 9 weeks, with no running water and especially no internet. So Ale Ta Ta for now, and lots of licks.