Shifting Gears

The most consistent thing about Vanuatu is the inconsistency at which things happen. These past few weeks my host family had our aunts and cousins staying with them. I asked to tag along for their send off. I was signing up for a four hour trip to and from the airport, I got a 9 hour tour of South Santo.

Our driver was a man from Mike's village, named Veera. Veera's a short man with a big belly who always wears the same bucket hat. I can't understand a word of his garbled Bislama and Mike likes to point out that when he speaks in his local language it sounds like the character Sebulba from Star Wars (it really does). Veera drives a five-seater pick up with a zebra patterned cover over the front seat and a window that's been smashed to pieces (there are conflicting stories as to how) and held together by a thick layer of tape.

When he's driving he has to look out a small corner of unbroken glass on the bottom left of the windshield. Every time there's a lull in a rainstorm he gets out of the car to towel wipe the small area of glass he can still see out of. He told us quite often when we first got here that he was going to have the window fixed "that week". He never did. Veera is easily my favorite driver. But the best- and equally most annoying- part about him is that a trip in his truck is never a journey from Point A to Point B. Which is fitting because nothing in Vanuatu is ever a straight shoot.

Veera dropped Mike (who had tagged along for the ride) off at my house that morning two hours too early and then disappeared into the Bush on foot. He came back maybe a half hour later to tell us that he lost his GPS (which we've never seen or knew existed) and was going to retrace his steps, try to find it, and then pick us up on his way back to my host families house. After two hours of waiting for him to come back, Mike and I gave up and went to my families house, which he arrived at two minutes later from a different route. At this point we were an hour late.

It only got worse from there. We stopped at Tata (Meg's school) to pick up Johnny (my host brother who attends secondary school there) and so that one of our cousins Vepaya could get a massage from the local customs medicine person (because she has a cold). From there, we made it all the way until town before we stopped again. First at a relatives house that lives in Luganville, then at a store in town, and then finally at a gas station.

At the airport, we had to wait for another plane to unload. It was filled with Soccer players from Cook Islands. Apparently there is some big soccer tournament here on Santo this coming week. Because so many kids end up skipping school to come watch it, the Ministry of Education voted to move our two week end of term holiday to start on Monday. They decided this the Friday before the Monday in question and then gave schools the decision on whether or not to change it. As a result, half of the schools in South Santo have changed their break and the other half have kept it the same. Three other volunteers and I are on break, while the other two volunteers still have school. The rest of Vanuatu kept the old break dates.

After the Cook Island kids boarded the bus, coconuts in hand, the plane was loaded again and we left to head back to Narango. But first, we needed to stop at the gas station again (to go to the store there, not to get gas). And then to two more stores in town for various supplies. And then back again to the other gas station (there are two on Santo), this time to actually get gas- for the second time that day. Drivers here fill up like my mom fills up her car back home, a little at a time, but never the whole tank.

Finally, we were on our way back South, where we stopped along the road three times to drop off people and then waited at one of the crossroads for a half hour for no apparent reason. I should mention that all along the ride back to Narango I sat inside the cabin and had to endure Mike DJing the most terrible selection of Southern rap songs I have ever heard.

We finally made it back to Narango around 7pm. That's the thing about Vanuatu, nobody ever knows for sure what's going on, why, or when. You can take your two week break when your school decides it wants it (even if the decision is made the day that break begins), and you can say you're going to fix a windshield that week and then never do it. There is no rhyme or reason to it. You never know when you'll get the next day or the never treatment. You never know when it'll take 9 hours to do something that should have taken, at most, 4.

In a country where life is remarkably simple, the road from Point A to Point B is twisting, turning, and detouring on a rocky dirt road, to a chorus of Southern rap music. The next turn obscured behind a wall of taped glass, the path forward seen from the bottom left corner, through a patch of unbroken glass that's being splattered by rain.