One week after I arrived in Vanuatu I started teaching. I walked into class five and my carefully laid lesson plan abandoned me. Everyone at our school thought that we were only studying maths in first term. That’s right, all maths, all the time. We tried to get in contact with other volunteers to ask what they were teaching and Mamie Colin tried to call the curriculum office. I really felt like I had no idea what I was doing and if I made any semblance of a plan it never really happened. In the end, I just had to go with what I had and make the rest up.
I taught year five and six for an hour each every morning and then Courtney and I teamed up to teach the year one two class for an hour and fifteen minutes. It was an interesting week figuring out how to teach maths with limited resources and to kids of all different ability levels. Thankfully some of the previous vols had left books to help us out. I ended up teaching multiplication and division, checking addition and subtraction and trying to make it fun. In class one and two the maths was simpler, learning things like up and under, left and right, thing that you forget that you had to be taught because they are just part of everyday life.
Homesickness slammed me that Monday. Living on school station meant that it was a very short distance from my front door to the class six room. The shower was diagonally behind our house, a teacher lived just behind us too and was using our tiny kitchen as hers wasn’t quite finished yet. From the kitchen, you can see straight into the shower. I took to washing my underwear in the bucket after I showered because it’s pretty easy to run out of clean underwear and students were told to wash our clothes as part of working practise on Monday afternoons.
For all the homesickness, I was able to see how beautiful everything was around me, to start with the pit toilet had a concrete floor. The Level School Station is beautiful, grassy hills surrounded by trees and topped off with open skies. At night all you can see is stars and the sunsets are magnificent.
Sitting outside my front door and watching the sun go down was an extra special treat. The children were gorgeous too. The ones who I lived with all the time appeared much healthier than some of the village kids but a snotty nose didn’t detract from the smiles. They loved being around us to the point that even if I was reading or writing, they were watching.
Island life took a bit of getting used to; squat toilets are something you have to get used to. I won’t forget the time Courtney reappeared from the toilet exclaiming that she’d nearly fallen in because a cow had given her such a shock by mooing next to the little building. Bucket showers are cold at the best of times and freezing at others. Island kaekae is the thing that takes the longest time because your body has to figure out how to deal with it. I spent a lot of time trying to get the food into my body. The Wednesday I was victorious at dinner, having eaten all my taro, canned meat and corn and I managed to wash it down with a biscuit or two. Lunch was still not my favourite because it was always steaming hot.
We had an earthquake that week, something I had never experience before. About 20 minutes before it happened, the dogs started barking and the chickens went a bit nuts. I obtained a dog that day, we referred to her as Shakey because of the earthquake. She’d belonged to the other volunteers, her name was really Pumba which I didn’t find out until I came home. Either way, that dog was more trouble that she was worth more often than not. She was the cause of a lot of lost sleep.
My favourite visitor in the first week was little Lavi. Lavi is Mr Kelly’s middle daughter, all of about three and she’s an expert at getting dressed at 6 in the morning and having removed all of her clothes by 7, much to everyone’s amazement. She would appear whenever she wanted to play with the beach ball we had or thought she needed at bandaid. Her biggest achievement so far is her round belly, gained through eating two rounds of each meal every day. She’ll finish eating with her parents and then race down to the big kitchen to get a second plate. She and her sisters, Sorina and Krystal, are going to grow up to be stunning.
After a week of putting away all my island food, I was excited that the boys were going prawn diving at the river. Dinner was going to be awesome and we were keen. We had prawns and shells for dinner. The shells are the kind you pry off rocks at the beach with the tiny creatures inside. The squishy bits are hooked out with an orange needle and taste a lot like dirt. We ate all that was put in front of us, feeling pretty good about the whole set up.
What followed can only be described as the weekend from hell. I may never eat prawns again and what I got was mild to Courtney. I managed to keep all my food down, barely, she was so sick. There was a moment when I was sitting outside and our family was coming up the hill while she yelled at me to keep them outside. I couldn’t stop laughing at that point because it was that or cry and I wasn’t going with that. Everything hurt and the wretched dog would bark all night that weekend. The two of us spent the weekend in hiding, sleeping and I would remove myself to the empty kitchen to play ukulele when I felt halfway decent. Mamie kept trying to feed us the prawns again; she didn’t believe that was what had made us sick. If memory serves, we ended up eating breakfast crackers and drinking tea.
Being sick in a different country with people you’ve just met is an interesting experience and I wish it was the last time I was sick but it was the last time we were that sick. I really hope I never reach that point again.
Love from Me and My Backpack