At the close of the first week of training they carted us off to our respective training villages on North Efate. Health volunteers went to Malafau and Education/IT volunteers were taken to Tanoliu. I'm here in Tanoliu for the next 2 months. I have two host brothers, one of whom lives in Tanna, and two sisters. I also have a 6 year old- cute as hell -cousin that lives with us during the school year because her mom doesn't want her going to school in Vila (she hates the city because it's too big... with it's population of 44,000).
In Tanoliu, I have found that many of my fears were born of uncertainty. Before I left I had created something of a vortex in my head, where everything to do with this place had been dark and muddled, constantly churning and growing. The second I was able to shine some light on any of it, nothing seemed as bad as I had built it up to be. It was a few days in before I fully realized that I had been taking a bucket shower every morning. Or that I had been sweating since the moment I stepped off the plane. It was no big deal; it had never been a big deal. Though there will be plenty more challenges to come.
Today we went to the garden. I know in America this means you stepped outside, so let me elaborate a little. We walked. Really far. Our families garden was down the road and through a thick patch of forest. My legs quickly got scratched and torn up by various plant life. There was a slight man made path that we followed in the woods before we finally came to a field of corn and, of all things, peanuts.
The field beside this one was completely overgrown, so we spent a few hours weeding out the entire thing using our bush knives. The sun was loud and mean, despite the frequent breaks it took behind lying clouds, which kept threatening rain that never came. In the shade, my Anti and some of the kids picked lice out of one another's hair.
Eventually we took a break to eat cookies, some fruit growing in the area, and roasted bananas my anti had cooked up in the dirt while we weeded. My mama kept insisting I rest (spell smol, yu spel smol), so we went back some ways through the forest and found the dense shade of a mango tree.
I guess I should mention here that we carry around bush knives everywhere. If my family had known I'd be told I need to buy a rather big knife when I got here- to carry and use everywhere-, I'm not sure they would have let me come. For my own, and others, safety.
Anyway, my host mama used her bush knife to chop us down giant body-sized leaves, which we laid out on under the shade of the mango tree. The kids came soon after, and I helped them build houses out of sticks and the huge leaves. It reminded me of the teepees my siblings, cousins, and I used to build up at great grandma's house. Though those paid no resemblance to our actual houses, whereas these stick and leaf huts were pretty spot on.
After the break, we went back to the field where we plowed the area we had just cleared. My mama finally gave up insisting I rest a little every 5 minutes. This is one of those projects I hate being given because I refuse to stop until its finished. The bigger the challenge the more stubborn I tend to become. I did a lot of shoveling and breaking up ground, and in the end, I think I was the dirtiest I have ever been. Keep in mind, I take bucket showers every morning and my feet on a daily basis are blacker than my black host sisters feet (minus the numerous areas scarred by mosquito bites). My hands are calloused now, and my face burnt to a crisp, even in the shade of my Giant's cap. But we got it done. The yams are planted.
The adults sent us kids back up the road to wait for a ride from Papa, who was making rounds before heading back to Port Vila to sell produce. There is one road here that wraps around Efate (the main island in Vanuatu). I believe the road was paid for by America. Regardless, it's a nice road and not a very busy one, considering it's the only real road in this entire country.
As we sat there waiting for Papa, swinging around our bush knives and sweating dirt, a taxi full of Australian tourists pulled over beside us. One man stuck his hand out, offering up candy. One of my host sisters went over and took it. I had to bite my tongue really hard not to yell at her for taking free candy from some strange man in a van. It occurred to me, as I fought my inner alarms and took the candy she then offered me, that I was currently no more or less than a third world citizen. Judge me for taking that candy, but I don't have it in me to turn down free candy, even when it's from stupid Australian tourists, who according to my host sister, do this all the time. I'm going to sit out on the side of the road with my bush knife more often.
I ask myself almost every day why I am here. But it's never because I find this too challenging to handle. It's just because being away from home for two years feels more and more impossible with each passing day. There's no freaking ice cream here for one thing. But for most others, it's that I miss the people I love. And I wonder if I can stand this pain inside of me for 27 months. Some days the answer is no. And some days I can't imagine not being here, where every day fills my mind with more questions and more stories and more ideas.
Will it ever mean anything that I am here? I hope so. For now, I go on, one second at a time, to shine a light on all my fears, and pocket the light for later, when I can take it back home and shine it for those who haven't taken the journey with me.
And maybe then I'll put it away for a little while, and curl up with a bowl of ice cream and that crazy redheaded sister of mine, and let other people shine it for a while. Just a little while though.
Until next time, love and licks from the other side.
My room and my best friend, my mosquito net.
That's my kitchen in the back and in the front left of the picture is the dishwasher.