Bae mi Misem Yu, Vanuatu

18 10 2013

Just a handful of things I’ll be missing big wan when I leave Vanuatu on November 5th.

  • Saying “Good morning, good afternoon, good night” to every person you pass
  • Being asked where you are going, what you are doing, or why you are doing it (Some find this irritating, I find it comforting)
  • Cultural sharing, like teaching my sister how to make fried green tomatoesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • The feeling of accomplishment while hanging a bucket of clothes that I just spent all morning washing (carry to river, scrubbing, some wont be dry until tomorrow)
  • Small kiddos with big knives522894_10102043664656520_1035884211_n
  • The short legged old black dog who comes to my door every night to be fed my leftovers
  • Panda, the 2nd best treated dog in Vanuatu, who has made my house her 2nd home and helps wash my dishes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Making all communication in a 2nd language. There aren’t very many opportunities to use Bislama in the U.S.
  • The daily ocean views and sunsets
  • Living in such a tight-knit community where everybody knows everybody’s business. Again, it can be frustrating, but I also find it very comforting.
  • Eating foods seasonallyOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Knowing what it’s like to really miss something- and then really appreciate it when you have it…. such as fruits and veggies that are seasonal, hot water, running water, electricity
  • The adorably filthy kiddos running around arse naked, just being kids543665_10103419670140500_104437940_n
  • The lack of materialism and racism in this culture
  • Black Man Time, AKA Island TimeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Kava, and all customs associated with drinking in this country
  • Teaching young girls things they never thought they could do. Like speak in public, set goals, and properly use condomsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • All these feisty teens, and grown boys who giggle and squeal
  • riding in backs of trucks around the islands944643_10103119574823920_953116926_n

Awo nomo.

17 10 2013

“Last Days” Reads:

Started Palaknuik- Pygmy, decided I wasn’t feeling it, and quit reading it.

Read and thoroughly enjoyed Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath, by Steinbeck ‘cuz I never had.

Just finished As I Lay Dying by Faulkner which took me a bit to get in to. And once I was in, I was in.

Now trying to lighten up a bit with a Tom Robbins book- Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. I think it’s working.


If I didn’t know better (which I’m not too sure I do), I’d say I’m experiencing a mild depression. My co-teachers claim it’s the weather. The smartest parts of my noggin’ know it’s probably all the sleep I’ve been getting and the kava I’ve been drinking. Then there is the fact that this is my very last month in this little paradise I’ve known for the past 3 years of my life. An uncertainty about where I will end up in America and how the hell I’m going to pay for health care. Ya know, that sort of thing.


I have felt very “checked out” as far as my work at the school goes and make a great effort to drag myself up there once a day to be semi-productive. All of my big “projects” are closed, and the world map is complete. I’m now just there to serve as a helping hand should the teacher’s need me. I will no doubt get replaced, and there will be plenty for the next volunteer to do- fingers crossed the community will get around to building new classrooms with the 50+ bags of cement which have been taking up space in Class 6 for over a year.

My last kava with Katelyn- a nearby volunteer. Day 16 in a row.

My last kava with Katelyn- a nearby volunteer. Day 16 in a row.

For reasons slightly unclear to me now, I thought it’d be a great idea to do a “Kava Challenge” for my last full month in Vanuatu. This means a month straight of kava every night. Some volunteers said that it had to be at least 200 vatu (or 2 large shells) minimum each night to count. So far this hasn’t been too hard to achieve. My sister Leisava makes kava just about every night. And on Sundays somebody goes and gets me a takeaway plastic from a nearby village because Tanoliu doesn’t serve it on that day. I’ve only puked once since being on this little challenge, and have been pleasantly “hit” by the kava (ie- drunk) every night with the exception of a couple. My pal Jake who lives in Tanna has added a little bonus to this challenge by texting me a question (or three) every night for me to ponder and answer. Things like: Would you rather have scales or fur for skin? and Do you feel weird when the toilet is still warm from the stranger who sat on it before you?

The major downside to kava everyday is that I don’t enjoy dinner afterwards, if I can eat at all. This does not work as a diet unfortunately, because I wake up twice as hungry and make up for it the next morning.  I also cannot do much of anything after kava (such as the artwork I still owe some folks). I lay in bed and  sometimes read a chapter or two, then sleep. Sleeping times vary between 8:30-10. I sleep in until 6:50-7:30. Sometimes even later. Needless to say, I am getting plenty of sleep. And with an added afternoon hammock nap, some might argue too much sleep. I try to balance this by maintaining an exercise routine every day and walking around the village a couple times, but I still feel very, very lazy. And not too terribly guilty about it. This is potentially the last span of time for a very long time where I will have the pleasure to sleep however much I want, read all day, and toast in my little metal house in the Pacific heat.

As for goodbyes: a farewell lunch with the school is planned for me on Wednesday, my family will make me a meal, and a certain papa has already hinted that I leave my hammock as a “memory” for him to keep. As early as a month ago, villagers were coming up to me asking me what things I was going to sell when I leave. While this can be frustrating feeling like all these folks care about are my possessions right at the end of my time here, I have to separate myself from it and try to look at things from their perspective. I mean, I got lotsa nice stuff for a single lady. And I’m definitely going to be giving it away and selling all of it quite cheaply. I find that selling my items makes distribution a bit more “fair” so that it doesn’t look like I’m picking favorites to give certain items to. Though I’m giving tons of stuff to my neighbor teachers and family, who have done so much for me.


I’m counting on it being pretty emotional leaving the village on October 31st. After that Peace Corps pays for us to stay in Port Vila in a hotel for 5 days to finish last work (reports, closing bank accounts, etc.) A group of Ni-Van students, family, and friends will no doubt see Melissa and I off at the airport on November 5th. I’d like to say these goodbyes get easier, but they don’t. And I feel like this last one will be the hardest of all.  People always ask me if I will come back. My answer every time is an honest, “I really want to, yes. But it will depend on money to pay the way.” I want to say that within 5-10 years, I hope to be back in Vanuatu. I think that’s reasonable to shoot for, as I have a lot more of the world left to see as well.

I’ll be leaving the country with two backpacks and mailing one box of keepsakes home. Leaving with less material possessions than I brought, but weighed down with loads of new knowledge, skillllz, and love. That feels pretty good.




Love and Sun and Things

13 09 2013

I’ve had the privilege to be a part of two very special people’s “Big  Ole’ Day-O-Love”…. Island style.

My friend Betsy did the Photos, damn her watermarks. ;)

My friend Betsy did the Photos, damn her watermarks. 😉

It started with this gal named Nancy, a fellow Group 23 volunteer who extended her service like me. Unlike me, she has lived and worked in Port Vila the past two years, and through her hobby of swimming, met this handsome Aussie fellow named Ivan.


Ivan and Nancy fell in love. Nancy adopted Ivan’s adorable pooch Buda (pretty sure it’s spelled Buddha, but I always get it wrong) as her own, and before I could say “Banana LapLap” there were plans in the works for the two lover’s marriage. They have a fantastically romantic engagement story that I can only hope to have some semblance of when I grow up and find Mr. Right (to be continued..).

After these two got engaged, they asked me to help design a crafty pop-up style wedding invitation. After a few trials, I got one they both liked. The bridesmaids gathered for assembly line creation of 200ish invites, and then I helped design the Save the Dates, Info page, and RSVP card. Later I assisted in the wedding website….with the cutest registry idear I ever did lay eyes on.


The wedding has been the last big “event” on my Vanuatu calendar and I was eagerly awaiting their big weekend for the past couple of months. Not only would my best pal Melissa be in town, but it was held at the end of a two week school break, and there would be lots of folks in town- Peace Corps as well as wedding guests.

The first week I spent getting Open Water SCUBA dive certified… Yee-haw!


Then there was this “Hen’s Day” thing, an Australian version of a Bachelorette party which was loads of fun, and might have included the first Skype stripper a Hen’s night has ever seen. ;)Unlike what they  would have had me believe, participants in Hen’s Night do NOT dress up as chickens. But there is lots of drinking and general silliness involved.

Nancy completing some challenges

Nancy completing some challenges


The last week of August the wedding preps really began. Or at least, that’s when I started helping out a lot on the wedding preps.

In case you didn’t know, weddings are a LOT of work. I can’t imagine the stress involved in putting on and International wedding, but Nancy and Ivan pulled it off with flying colors.

**Note to self: get eloped and then have a ginormous wedding reception for family and friends. Food, cake, photo booth, and open bar are essential**

Nancy is a creative, crafty lady and her wedding definitely reflected that in the end. It was quirky, elegant, and fun all wrapped in to one.  The ceremony was short and sweet and included things such as the couple drinking from a coconut shell and bridesmaids/grooms men sharing well-wishes for the couple’s future. Yes, tears were shed, Yes, I was the one who wished them loads of future pikinini to increase their ‘tribe.’

balls in progress

balls in progress

One of the big DIY tasks was assembling over 100 paper-Mache style string balls. They look amazing once complete, and require only a few messy steps.

1. lube ball or balloon with Vaseline 2.create glue/starch/water mixture 3. dip string in glue mixture and “squeegee” excess glue off with fingers 4. Wrap ball up with string leaving spaces and a largish space near the  top to pull the balloon out of 5. let dry 6. remove balloon


A friend of Nancys, named “Pin” was the master creative director/decorator/day of wedding lady. She created a beautiful wedding space with minimal decorations. Balls, jars filled with sand and LED candles, chinese hanging lanterns, and fairy lights. It also didn’t hurt that the setting was a beautiful tropical paradise with gorgeous blue-green ocean and a coconut plantation surrounding the venue.

And the party begins

And the party begins

Of course there were some quirky areas of the wedding, such as the photo booth area, Dr. Seuss-like “hammock garden”, a kids zone, and an area to write on a map where you would like the couple to go for their round-the-world honeymoon, and a jar where guests could write their well wishes and leave them for the couple.


I got to help with some fun chalkboard wedding signs that directed guests to important areas, such as the men’s bush toilet (pretty sure me and some fellow peace corps gals used this more than most of the more ‘civilized’ male guests at the wedding).

Nancy Fire Dancing

Nancy Fire Dancing

After the wedding, food and drinks were a plenty and two of Nancy and Ivan’s talented friends were the DJs. Dancing, and late night fire-dancing commenced followed by on site camping for the young and rambunctious friends. We awoke and groggily dissembled the decorations, ate wedding leftovers, and lounged around for the day in the beautiful Vanuatu sun. A perfect end to a perfect wedding.

Beer and Curry

Beer and Curry

One of the highlights for me was, as can be expected, the food. Nancy has a good pal named Dan from the States who attended the CIA (the food one, in which I toured in hopes of attending so many years ago), and now works for Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen (Yep, pretty much my former dream job).  She flew him in early to help with local food sourcing and menu development, and along with some of Port Vila’s culinary students and Ivan’s Cafe staff, they put together a pretty damn tasty meal for the wedding. We guests were basically bombarding the poor servers as they came out of the temporary kitchen shed with their trays- hoping to get a taste (or 3) of every small bite. Beef skewers with satay dipping sauce, PawPaw salad lettuce wraps, grilled prawns, coconut shells with beef curry, and a fried taro chip with tuna ceviche (I think?) on top were some of the treats. I couldn’t help but gaze over as the kitchen line worked, busily and seriously plating tasty morsels on to banana leaves as the crowd of guests chatted and drank and munched on the passing foods. I thought to myself briefly, “hmmmm, I think I’d still like to do that.”  I’ve got time, maybe I will.

Happiness in a Basket!

Happiness in a Basket!

A couple days before the wedding, Nancy gave me a wonderful green picnic basket full of art and kitchen goodies.  My favorite item was a Cook’s Illustrated “The Science of Good Cooking” cookbook, in which Dan had a hand or two in making. I thank you both whole-heartedly, from my growling belly to my toes! I’ve already begun reading this and intend to read it cover to cover in my last months in Vanuatu- however hungry (and hungry for cooking) it makes me!


I also have to give a big thanks to Mr. Martin. He is a friend of Nancy and Ivan who allowed them to use his beautiful North Efate house as a venue. The area was perfectly suited for the event, and the two trees framing the picturesque view of the ocean and nearby islands served as a central point for not only the wedding invitations, but the ceremony itself and the decorations.



I made this small watercolor/ink series as a wedding gift for Nancy and Ivan, and have now been asked to make a bit of art to give to Martin and hang in his house. I must say I am super flattered to do this, but after experiencing first hand his amazing hospitality and true island sense of character (ie, laid back, go-with-the-flow persona), I can only hope to make something worthy  enough to express thanks on behalf of all of us guests and wedding party for all that he did for us. Thank ya sir, if you ever happen to lay yer eyes on this here blog.

Nancy's Pal Erica :)

Nancy’s Pal Erika 🙂

It was so wonderful meeting Nancy’s father and sister, her best friend and chef friend, and celebrant friend, and so many others! Beautiful people in a beautiful place sharing an important part of Nancy and Ivan’s life- I feel incredibly glad to have been there! More importantly, I felt that these two are super fortunate to have such a talented group of friends. Designers, musicians, chefs, fire-dancing artists, DJ’s….. these two surround themselves with amazing people- and after meeting so many of them I can certainly see why that is- from both sides. Nancy is one beautiful lady with a selfless heart and go-getter attitude. She and Ivan will be very happy together….I’m pretty darn sure of it.

Here’s wishing Nancy and Ivan many more years of happy, love, and sun-filled days!

Lots of Love and hugs to you two. I already feel disheartened when thinking of leaving you behind, but I know our paths will cross again- be it Stateside or some other land.

I still read…. Sometimes.

12 09 2013

It’s no surprise that since moving to Efate Island my reading list has gotten a bit smaller. I’m still plowing through books faster than I ever did post-corps, but definitely not reading 6 a month like I did on Maewo.

Am I busier? A bit. Is there more distractions? Definitely.

Nevertheless, my love of books and reading remains, and I will challenge myself to keep up this nice habit when I return to the fast-paced, Netflixified U.S. of A. Perhaps I’ll even buy myself a nice eReader like all those tech-forward folks have.

Books I’ve read since coming to Efate Island (the past 9ish months):

Fifty Shades Darker- EL James

**Life of Pi- Yann Martel

Keeping Faith- Jodi Picoult

*Another Roadside Attraction- Tom Robbins

Seriously….i’m Kidding- Ellen Degeneres

**Interpreter of Maladies (short stories)- Jhumpa Lahiri

*Prodigal Summer- Barbara Kingsolver

*Harry Potter 1, Philosopher’s Stone- J.K. Rowling (Our school library has all 7 Potter books. I’ve never read them, and haven’t seen the last 3 movies either so I thought, “why not?”

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

*Brain on Fire- My Month of Madness- Susanne Cahalan

Harry Potter and Order of Pheonix

**Born to Run- Christopher McDougall (I started running 2-3 times a week since reading this book)

*Medium Raw- Anthony Bourdain

*Heart of the Sea-True story of the Whaleship Essex- Nathaniel Philbrick

Pigs in Heaven- Barbara Kingsolver

**Harry Potter- Half Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows

*The Bookseller of Kabul- Asne Seirstad

*Mountains Beyond Mountains- The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who would cure the world- Tracy Kidder

And book #173 since coming to Vanuatu: **Game of Thrones- Book 1- George R.R. Martin


Bak long Naviso

16 08 2013

A short lil’ preview of my trip back to Naviso Village, East Maewo Island. 


Updates n’ Things

25 07 2013

You might be surprised to hear that not a lot has happened since I last updated. It’s hard to believe that over half a year has come and gone since I was in the States on home leave. More friends of mine Stateside have gotten engaged, gotten married, and popped out little people, and I am here in the village seemingly the same ole Jen.


The world map is close to being finished. The perfectionist in me thinks it will never be quite finished. It needs some touching up on the countries, labeling of all countries, and a border/possibly some sea-life around the border. Lastly, I’ll put a clear protective coat over the entire thing, so maybe it’ll last a year or two longer.

I’ve been teachin’ away. Reading, phonics, english-speaking, book report projects, library upkeep, and site-word races. I feel like work in this area is very slow, but I do see that I am making a difference, however small. Occasionally I fit in an art lesson for year 1 and 2, which they love. I haven’t found a time to make regular art lessons for the community or older students yet. Maybe I’m being lazy, maybe I’m a little nervous because I haven’t given formal art lessons in such a long time. Whatever the case, I need to get my act together and get on gettin’ on makin’ Tanoliu a more colorful place. These kiddos are already so naturally artistic and talented. Like Mr. Picasso say’s, “Every Child is an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”


I’ve also been bonding with my family a lot. I followed my mama to one of their gardens and helped her weed around the tomato plants a bit. It’s almost tomato time and I will have them coming out the wazoo- I can’t wait. My family runs a kava bar which means I am never lacking in that department. Drinking of kava remains my regular nightly “program” and I am now lovingly known as “girl blo kava.” Before I was given my new kustom name by my father, the young guys (my brothers) joked about naming me LeiMalok- which basically means ‘girl kava.’ Fortunately they decided on Leisara, which means girl who flew here from a far away place. Fitting, seeing as I came here from both America and Maewo. At the kava bar I am known as being the gal who always has American chewing gum and a lighter on hand. What can I say? It’s nice to be needed for something.102_2754

Holiday time is in full swing right now. There was the opening of “Ulei Day” in which I helped some students paint a banner. This wasa three day celebration of the birthday of the Junior secondary school, where Britt works down the road.



Thanks to him and his flas (fancy) set up, I have a place to charge my laptop and phone and occasionally use him for his shower when my water is out.

102_2737Children’s Day, which is a National holiday here, was on the 24th and there was no school. Vanuatu Independence day (the 33rd year) is on the 30th of July. Basically there is a school spel, or vacation, between Children’s Day and Independence Day. Everybody is busy constructing their booths/stalls where many different foods will be sold for 5 days. The opening of the stalls is on Friday, which calls for another school holiday. Ni-Vanuatu like their holidays, or any excuse to not hold school. I will take this time to go to town for a day and go to yoga, post some mail, and update this here blog.

30th of July is sure to be lots of fun. Kava, ‘strong drink’, crazy Ni-Van activity. Hopefully nobody will do anything too silly- like whacking each other with bush knives and what not. I plan to stick myself around some responsible family folks and observe quietly under a kava fog. Should be entertaining, if nothing else.

August 7-11 I’ll be returning to Maewo and Naviso with Nik and his American brother. I cannot wait! I am already training for the bigfalla hill and intend to take a billion and a half photos. I’m looking forward to consuming my body weight in taro, leaf blo taro, and hopefully lots of fishies and prawns. It’ll be exciting to see my youngest brother Trino, who was not yet walking when I left a year ago. Also seeing Nik and my adorable namesake, Jenikola. It will be much harder leaving for the second time, knowing I very well may never see these folks again.
After that I only have one week of school left for this trimester.

Then a good pal’s wedding. (Whom I designed her pop-up wedding invitations- photos to come)
Then all of my close of service reports and preparations for traveling in Asia starting on November 5.

Life is warm, life is good, life is sunny and busy, and full of thoughts of all of you.
More updates to come and photos I hope.

Happy Mommy’s Day!

12 05 2013