Christmas in Northern Vanuatu, Day 8: Spending Christmas Day with Strangers

Monday, December 25th, 2017

At 5am, I awaken to the sound of wood aggressively being chopped. Here in Vanuatu, there is no break from the work, and Christmas day shall open with hard labor!

With Vanuatu being a Christian country, we assumed most businesses and restaurants would be closed. However, in our previous visits to the Indian restaurant, we had been informed that they would surely be open on the 25th, so we made that our first stop.

While walking to the Indian restaurant, Annalisa informed me that in her village, for SDA (Seventh Day Adventists), Christmas day isn’t a hugely celebrated day like it is for the other churches. I was curious to know what Christmas Day would be like in my village, but prior to my departure, my host family and others informed me that there wasn’t much going on other than church service (my host family is Presbyterian) and eating lunch (the usual laplap) at home. So while I was having a bit of “fear of missing out” for my home village, I felt that spending Christmas day with fellow PC friends in Luganville would be more eventful.

Our Christmas crew that evening.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, the Indian restaurant is excellent not only for its food, but also its internet connection, so I set up my laptop and Skyped with my family back home, who was celebrating a day early on Christmas Eve. The connection wasn’t perfect enough for conversations, but good enough for some choppy visual panorama of the party and guests. I wore my green and red jingle bell kitten ears for the occasion, and it was nice to see everyone in their Christmas wear, like my brother wearing the usual red Christmas sweater and my Grandpa’s old red plaid pants. Annalisa and Keevon jumped in the video at one point to say hello to my parents, and to us, sitting in an open-air Indian restaurant beside a wharf with 80*F weather while wearing shorts and t-shirts, it wasn’t too much of a Christmas spirit until I made that call. So that was nice.

A dead downtown Luganville

Police HQ rests on Christmas Day

On our way back to Eve’s, we noticed again how surprisingly busy some stores were. While the main strip of Luganville was dead, as the Ni-Van owned businesses and stores were closed (the post office, Uncle Bill’s, the pharmacy, the airline ticket office, LCM grocery store), there are plenty of stores in Luganville, and Vanuatu in general, that are owned by Chinese families, so several stores were open. Most stores in Vanuatu sell most of the same, unless it is specifically an electronic or a grocery store. So all the general stores that sell everything from flip-flops to tote bags to t-shirts to toy balls to nail polish to pots and pans were open. Had I needed a last-minute gift, I could have found one. Alas, we decided not to exchange gifts, which is totally fine as we as PCVs have gotten by on the minimal lifestyle and each other’s company.

Daming, the grocery store near Eve’s house, of course was open, as it appears to almost be open 24/7, or at least by Vanuatu standards (past 7pm on weekdays!), so I popped in to get some groceries to make fudge. When we met up with some expats on Friday night, we had been invited to a “little Christmas get-together” that was described as a bit of a potluck, so we decided beers, pasta salad and fudge would be our contributions.

Back at Eve’s, Annalisa told us about how her Italian family’s Christmas tradition is eating lots and lots of pasta, so she went ahead and made a massive helping of cold pesto pasta salad for the party. I made some peanut butter fudge for dessert, and after everything was placed in Eve’s fridge, we all got ready for the party.

The party headquarters.

We took a taxi to the expats’ house, which was absolutely massive. Margeaux, one of the Aussie expats, told us how several Aussies moved here to Luganville and this was the only property that was available, and it was a six- or seven-bedroom house that they all moved into and decided to split. It was HUGE. On the second-level veranda, we saw the food spread of Mediterranean-inspired dishes like hummas, homemade chickpea fritters with mango chutney and yogurt to the Aussie Christmas classics of burgers, BBQ chicken, and pork. It was strange to step into a house with hardwood floors and nice furniture after so long. While some PCVs have very nice houses, there is always an element that it’s still foreign, still “different” in some ways. Here, it was hardwood floors and lit candles and golden warmth from the warm white lights that are so rare and missed after months of fluorescent bulbs and solar lights. Just like those moments when I sit back on a couch in the resource room in Vila, I experience little settings and sensations like this and it reminds me of home, of something I didn’t even realize that I knew I had missed, because they are things you don’t even realize surround you on a daily basis until they're gone for so long, and then presented to you again.

Homemade peanut butter fudge!

We walked around barefoot on the patio outside, nibbling on chips and dip and snacking on sausages and fudge, in the company of who were essentially strangers, but who became our orphan Christmas family. This Christmas, I never once felt lonely or missing home, because here it’s just so drastically different, both in culture and weather and music and surroundings that it just doesn’t feel like Christmastime. This celebration felt more like a New Year’s BBQ or something of the sort, which was completely fine and I enjoyed it immensely.

Margeaux, Frances, Annalisa, myself and Keevon with our new headgear

Margeaux ended dinner with an unexpected surprise. As a hobby she sews hats and visors and she had a handful to spare, so she gifted us her creations. We all excitedly put them on, and I was thrilled to now have a visor to replace my hand-over-eyebrows habit that I have every day at site. Sometimes a hat is too much, but this visor was perfect.

It poured rain towards the end of the night, and a couple of the people whose house we were at used the opportunity to shower outside. While they have a perfectly acceptable showerhead and running water, they told us, the rain funneling between the corners of the roofs make for a perfect water massage. Even here, in this little blip of Westernized modernity, the residents find solace in nature. They ran outside in their swim trunks and stood underneath the water running from the 2nd story roof and scrubbed down with the clouds’ best water pressure.

When the rain cleared, our group hurried out to avoid getting wet, as the rain always seems to return. We quickly said our goodbyes and headed down the road with Annalisa carrying a giant cardboard box with Keevon’s phone inside, so she could pretend she had the novelty of a boombox weighed on her shoulder.

After a couple blocks, we hailed a taxi, a party taxi, if you will, that was flashing blue lights on the dash and whose heavy bass speaker system was blaring “Down” by Jay Sean and Lil Jon.

We danced in the backseat the entire ride home, and once arriving at Eve’s, we busted out the mini champagne bottles that Annalisa scored for free from the store on Friday. She suspected that they were all flat, as the single-serving mini bottles were usually marked 750vatu each but the store clerk decided to give four of them to her for free. We shook them up and surprisingly got a little bit of the fizz bubbling out upon opening them. We said our “cheers” and then settled down for some much-needed rest.