I mentioned Vanuatu briefly in my first post. At the time, I was a bit preoccupied with the insurance company. I went to Vanuatu as a volunteer teacher. My placement was five months long and I taught at Level Mission Primary School.
The first week in Vanuatu, I stayed in Mangaliliu Village on Efate. I discovered just how beautiful Vanuatu is. As clichéd as it is, the sea actually sparkled and there were so many plants and flowers I'd never seen before.
More than the physical place, it was the beauty of the people that won me over. In Australia, I have one brother. The first night in Vanuatu, I was introduced to at least five brothers and sisters, I had two mamas, one papa, I'm not sure if the second one is around and the community itself adopted me and the other eighteen volunteers as their own.
I spent the next week getting a crash course in island life. We had medical and safety briefings, introduction to bislama classes, the shortest talk on cyclones, a history lesson and more bislama classes.
Our last night at Mangaliliu, we learnt to cook island kakae (food). We chased down two roosters which some of the boys then killed and plucked. We grated manioc, rolled it in island cabbage leaves and soaked them in coconut milk to make simporo rolls. I learnt to grate the coconut and how to open one without a knife. It's as simple as dropping a very big rock on it. It was a pretty awesome last night feast and everyone's mama had outdone themselves by making us island dresses or shirts. They didn't measure us and we didn't know they were making them. We looked absolutely fabulous.
The next day, we were got on a plane to Santo, the biggest island in Vanuatu. Then, after waiting around for several hours, we got on a Twin Otter, which sits 19 people, and flew on over to Pentecost. I did not enjoy the flight as I was scared the whole time but flying over the island before we landed was pretty sweet. We landed safely and were greeted by someone from our new community.
Courtney, my placement partner, and I were greeted by one of our host dads and the truck driver. Level School is a 2 hour truck ride from Sara Airport, it's a 12 hour walk. One of our uncles met up with us in a nearby village and for the next hour and a half, we had the greatest time ever, riding in the tray of a ute on a dirt road is awesome. Of course, it rained for the last half hour so we arrived, soggy, cold and slightly travel sick. Waiting for us were our host families. I have two mamas, two papas, nine sisters and three brothers in that community. Plus Courtney, who is referred to as my sister. Then there's grandparents, aunties, uncles, third cousins four times removed who stay for dinner, I'm related to at least one child in every class at my school.
I should mention, I am not a professional teacher, the qualifications I have are in swim teacher and a CPR course, so I was thrown in the deep end here. And that's what I'd signed up for. I teach year five and year six for an hour each in the morning, then year and two with Courtney for an hour and fifteen minutes. There are 45 kids at the school, most of them are in year one and two. For the first week and a half, we taught nothing but maths. The other teachers were doing maths too, somehow everyone was a bit confused and thought term 1 curriculum was maths only. Thankfully we discovered otherwise and we taught English from then on. My year five class loved grammar, the year sixes wanted to learn to write stories and we taught year one and two songs and the alphabet. I am super proud of my french speaking students, who had no English and were totally confused by the alphabet because just before I left, they wrote the whole thing by themselves!
Aside from teaching, I did a lot of learning. I learnt to use a bush knife the length of my calve, to open coconuts and eat sugar cane, how to wash my clothes in a bucket, which leaves make good tea and which ones are good for toilet paper. I learnt a new language, to not worry too much, that sometimes all you need is a ukulele and a smile to have a good day.
Sure, a rat ate my clothes, a dog barked through the night and the cows started mooing at five in the morning. Yup, I got sick and Courtney got sicker. And yes, it's true that we were generally weird by ni Van standards but we had fun and we were loved by the people there. At the end of the day, Vanuatu is a second home to me, and the "bad stuff" pales in comparison to all the good stuff that happened. The good stuff breaks the scales.
Love From Me and My Backpack
"You get a strange feeling when you leave a place, like you'll not only miss the people you love, but you miss the person you are at this time and place because you'll never be this way ever again"
- Azar Nafsi