Christmas in Northern Vanuatu, Day 16: Closing up the New Year's festivities in Vinmavis

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

I awaken early (for me...late for village standards) at 7am, to the sound of a child playing marbles two feet away from my head, just on the other side of the bamboo walls of Colleen’s house.

 Colleen gets up before me and heads to the bathroom, as I lay in the hammock, half awake. Her mom comes to the door and shouts for her, and I respond that Colleen went to the bathroom. When Colleen returns, she tells me her host mom found her and informed her that I’m awake and there’s church in the morning. Colleen and I discuss how people must never sleep in here. Like, once their eyes open, they just get up. I wonder if anyone has ever thought about...just...returning to sleep again.

I check my fever and FINALLY it broke and is back to normal body temperature. My throat is FINALLY not sore anymore, but the back of it still looks like a growth from Stranger Things’ “Upside Down” world, so I’m keeping an eye on it.

Instead of attending church, we opt to stay in and join everyone for a late church lunch. On our way to lunch, we see Bennett on his way to the shower. This kid is clean.

At lunch, I eat a small portion of rice, as I always do (even when I’m healthy). People here just never understand when I/anyone would put small portions of rice on their plate. Colleen tells me I’m making her look good. All my avoidance of food and baby portions are making her look like a healthy eater, a quality that is well-regarded in this community. We are amused by the offering of “unsalted” island cabbage and yam, which is very clearly salted. However, it’s no added salt, but the ramen packets used to flavor the broth are loaded with sodium. Even so, I opt for this “lower salt” version, which is quite delicious.

The stage beside the church is set up with large speakers, from which a DJ is blaring Christian pop and alt rock music, along with Christian Bislama tunes. Soon the music cuts so about 15 children can gather around a laptop to watch a movie on the stage. It’s kind of amusing, since none of the spectators at the event seem to mind.

A woman in the village approaches Colleen and asks her for help with her laptop. She didn’t bring it with her but wants to know what is wrong with it. Apparently upon turning it on, the programs won’t run. We conclude it’s definitely an issue that needs to be addressed in-person, since seeing the laptop for an issue like this is important.

We return to Colleen’s and then head off to the women’s council to fill out a form to apply for a sewing machine donation. Before we leave Colleen’s compound, I want to buy an ice pop from the local store. We walk over, and the store owner’s son calls out to the owner, who is sleeping on a bench across the road. He wakes up, walks over, and tends to my 20 vatu purchase, presumably returning to sleep afterwards. I feel a little guilty, but he told me since his store was closed yesterday, I was his first purchase of 2018!

When we meet the women to complete the donation form, one part asks why the person requesting the donation is a responsible individual, basically requesting more information on their background. It was a bit difficult getting an answer for this, as the culture here is quite shy and isn’t big on “tooting their own horn” so to speak. Without being rude, we ask the woman why she’s so great, and after hemming and hawing, she reveals she’s led the church fundraising committee and other community committees, and served as a treasurer for the women’s club for several years! Job interviews in this culture are presumably very different, without the aspect of “selling yourself.”

Upon returning to Colleen’s house, we discuss her lack of privacy. At one point, Colleen is sitting on the floor and notes there is a child just on the other side of the bamboo behind her. She tells me she’ll be in bed reading with the light on, and people can see the light seeping through the cracks in the walls and will shout to her from the nearby road “Goodnight Colleen!” This makes me appreciate my site’s privacy even more.

Ready to dive.

In the late afternoon, I’m well enough to move about. I really want to dive. Although Colleen has done it only a few times at site, she’s more skilled than I am, and she owns a speargun that I’ve wanted to test out. I borrow her flip flops, as she’ll need to hold my shoes as I snorkel. I absolutely hate flip flops with a vengeance. In the few steps I need to walk in the coral, my feet slide around and get cut up by coral on all sides, and I stub my toe a couple times. I don’t understand how people wear these as their everyday shoes in Vanuatu.

She decides that only I will dive, since she would rather not share a mask with a deathly ill person such as myself. A group of kids aged 10-14 is already out in the water. As we swim around them, I laugh at the quietness of the sea contrasted with the heavy mask-breathing of the kids with their snorkels. I find that using a mask and snorkel makes me feel much more comfortable swimming out into the deep waters.

Colleen loads the spear gun and I shoot at a couple fish, not catching anything. Some of the kids try the gun and aren’t successful, either. It’s fun, and reminds me of a carnival game where you’re SO close and find yourself trying again and again. In a carnival, you run out of money, but here, you run out of sunlight, so we head back as it gets dark.

When we return to shore, we’re invited to evening church service. We decide to shower first and take our time getting there. After fellow volunteer Tristan texts Colleen, we discover that I can just meet him to get to the ship tomorrow, as he too is going to Santo. No need for Neil anymore!

Before heading off, Colleen and I snack on some freshly sliced avocado with cracked pepper. By now it’s dark, and Darwin follows us surprisingly far. My cat, Kalmataku, would wimp out at about fifty feet, but Darwin walks with us for about ten minutes, and Colleen continually tries to push him home, fearing he may get lost. Oh well.

The bonani begins

On our way, we get distracted by the Presbyterian church’s Bonani celebration, which is the Bislama-fied version of the French “Bonne Annee”, which means “New Year.” It’s basically a stringband version of caroling, wherein a group of young men play instruments and go to various houses, asking the owners which songs they’d like to hear. We follow them to the first house and hear them play about ten songs as children and adults run around in circles, tossing baby powder on each other and swinging sprigs of leaves around as they dance. Traditionally, the stringband would go to every single house. However, since this is a larger village, the band instead went to the four main family clans and played at only one house for each.

Kids and adults dance around the circle of musicians

So much baby powder in the air. SO MUCH.

Baby powder sharing time.

We watch Darwin dart between trees and bushes as we stand on a concrete ledge overlooking the action around us. Towards the end of the music portion, one man shouts a call and response to the crowd:
“Hip hip?”
“Hip Hip?”
“Two thousand...”

I laugh as some confused children and drunk men respond that the new year is 2017.

We leave the wild party and walk over to the AOG (Assembly of God) church. The stage is still set up, with some choreographed dance numbers going on in front, performed by children.

Colleen, meet pig. Pig, meet Colleen.

At the feast, we get a plate of food: roasted pig, rice, soup. I’m again offered laplap sorsor, but all of this is far too much food for my hunger level, and I yet again have to turn down their generosity. I feel bad, and they seem a bit hurt. Colleen happily eats it all.

Jack sings his heart out.

We sit down with Colleen’s host mama, as well as another neighbor, and discuss the miracles of the international date line and how the USA has FOUR time zones. Behind us on the stage, a 13 year old boy named Jack is singing and playing keyboard. He closes the show that night, ending the singing around 10:15pm. The show concludes with a church elder making an announcement that a wedding is taking place on Friday, and that drinking will NOT be permitted.

We return to Colleen’s, barely using our flashlights and instead following the brightness of the moon. Fetako tells us that the bonani ran out of baby powder to throw at people and they started using flour, which was now caked on everything. As people attempted to rinse it off with water, it just got mushy and sticky and gross.

Upon arrival at Colleen’s, we notice Darwin never came back. We hope he returns in a day or two. Poor little guy.