After the incident with the pig, the 19 of us and our co-ordinator Terry piled into two mini buses the next morning. Leaving anywhere in Vanuatu means hugging your way through a village. Everyone, mamas, papas and siblings, lines up to say goodbye and you are paraded down the line, shaking hands and having your cheek kissed.
Baggage has different meaning to both the Ni-Vans and Air Vanuatu. None of us were travelling light really, we all had at least one hiking pack equivalent and a backpack, with a large number of us having second bags, all full of school supplies and other such goodies. The locals who were on the flight to Santo, in comparison, had maybe a basket or a cardboard box. Amusingly, bush knifes are allowed in carry on.
At Santo the six girls who were off to Ambae had a quick flight change and were gone barely after we landed. I still think we looked like a school group in our blue island clothes, that dress is one of my favourites. The next few hours passed with us reading books, looking at photos and talking.
Our flight to Pentecost was on a Twin Otter. Twin Otters have exposed propellers on the wings, seats 19 and the front row seats are basically in the cockpit. To get the 13 Pentecost volunteers and all our gear on board that week’s mail was apparently left off the flight. It was loud on board and for the whole half hour flight, my knuckles were white. We were flying so low I could see the islands and the ocean beneath us. I thought that flight was going to be the scariest thing I would do in Vanuatu. Looking back, it’s not that scary at all.
Coming into Pentecost was a sight to behold; we circled the airfield twice, blue ocean below, amazed by the natural beauty of this island. I imagine the islanders were amazed when we all got off the plane. Our bags were dumped straight off the plane into the mud and we had arrived. Courtney and I pulled ourselves together, grabbed our bags and lugged the three big ones over to the concrete building that serves as an airport in one hit. Super human effort really. Our dad was waiting for us, not that we knew who he was at the time.
We were loaded into a truck and pulled out of the airport. In my journal I wrote “We rode in the back of a ute yesterday! Standing up, holding onto the bar behind the cab going at questionable speeds given the condition of the roads around the place. We laughed most of the way.” Riding in the back of the truck is one of the best things I did. I loved it, it feels like flying, your skirt streams behind you, your hair is a mess, branches have to be ducked, leafs and twigs slap and catch on you. The only thing that is not fun about truck rides is having to sit down when you get travel sick. The last half hour of our trip took place in the rain and cold and by the time we arrived at the school, I felt like throwing up.
Every child on the school station was there to greet us. They all watched with big eyes and the adults talked and talked. Now is a great time to introduce my family. I’m lucky enough to have two. The family I ate with consists of Dad Michael, Mamie Colin (said Colleen), my sisters Kay, Virana, Nellie and Musiro, the adopted brother Leona and assorted kids who board at the school, Jineth, Faylina, Kesia and Basil. There was also the year two teacher, Kerina and the year three teacher Roger. My family who lives in the village is Daddy Ben, Mamie Annick, my brother Hensley, my sister Firenze and my baby sister Nikki. She’s named after one of the first volunteers to Level.
All of that mad family watched us unpack our bags. There is nothing like being watched while you unpack your knickers to get to know the locals. Excellent family bonding if you ask me, you have nothing to be ashamed of after that.
We ate in the big island kitchen, sitting on raised seats, surrounded by people. We had corn, freshly picked and cooked, my first run in with taro which I described as “tastes good and is kinda like a potato”, along with beans and meat. I didn’t know that I would fall madly in love with taro and the like that day, but it was only a matter of time.
There was a thunderstorm that night. The thunder was so loud I could have sworn there was a cannon next to my bed, the lightening light up my bamboo house brighter than the sun. Dad Michael came and checked on us in the middle of the storm but we were so tired that aside from that, the two of us slept like logs.
Sunday morning, bright and early, we headed up to church, sliding everywhere. Church was hard to understand as it was in three languages, only one of which I spoke at the time. I got a few of the Bislama words but the language part of the service was lost on me. Courtney and I were given flowers and shook hands with everyone again. The church service saw me sitting on wooden plank with some sisters while my backside went numb.
We spent the afternoon walking down to the river pack Wosak Village, where my Mamie Annick lives. She gave Courtney and me these beautiful fans, woven diamonds with some of the strips dyed pink and purple. They served us well. Our sisters, and little Sorina, the daughter of Mr Kelly, went to the river with us, feeding us nuts and shouting to the village kids about us. The river was beautiful and cool, although the climb back to the station was hard work and I think I might have been sweatier when I got back up the hill than I was before I went down there.
The first weekend at Level was not truly what I expected, but then again I don’t know what I expected. It was fun, after I had warmed up and gotten over my disgusting travel sickness.
Love from Me and My Backpack