Saturday, January 5, 2008

December 28, 2007- "Today I Fell In Love With an Entire Village"

Nguna Island

I`m sitting here on the front porch of my beachfront bungalow. The birds are chirping, the children are splashing, and a ni- Van woman in a brightly colored Mother Hubbard dress just strolled by. The three young local girls who have been following me around for the past few hours have just left, and I am thankful that I finally have a quiet moment to myself to take in my surroundings. Jumping 14,000 feet from a moving plane was exciting, but living in a bungalow amidst a Vanuatu village is another experience like no other. So how did I get to where I am right now? A few days ago while staying in my Nomads dorm, a young German couple suggested that I might like to take a trip to Nguna Island just North of the main island of Efate. The idea of visiting a nearby island seemed more feasible than flying to an outer island of Vanuatu since it would be much cheaper and I would not have to worry about booking flights. An escape from Port Vila for a few nights was just what the doctor had ordered.

This afternoon, I made my way into town to the "Hua" Chinese store to seek out a means of transportation that would get me to Emua wharf where I would then take a boat over to Nguna Island. Within minutes, I was sitting in the back of someone`s truck with a dozen or so ni- Vans- about to embark on possibly the most painful ride of my life (very bumby road + plank of wood for a seat= Ouch!). The drive to Emua wharf from Port Vila is only intended to take about an hour or so, but in actuality, it took us about 3. Every few minutes, the truck would stop at a different store, and the ni -Vans would scurry toward a store. Minutes later, they would return with grocery bags, or boxes of groceries to fill the truck- and we`d be back on our way (at least until we had reached the next store).

Once we arrived at the wharf, it took a few minutes for the men to transport the groceries and shopping bags from the back of the truck into the small boat that would take us across the water to Nguna Island. Words can not even begin to describe the stretch of scenery that laid before me. Vanuatu is made up of hundreds of islands, and several of these islands, at varying distances, over the deep blue waters. Some seemed very bright and near while others were rather blurry from afar. After 20 minutes on the tiny boat, we reached the island. As our boat came ashore, the small children who were swimming came running toward the boat. Half naked and wild with excitement, the kids dangled from the sides of the boat.

Willie, the ni- Van man who told me he`d act as my guide, escorted me toward the Vat Vaka bungalows where the only people I found were three young ni- Van girls, Kathleen, Mathilda & Madeleine, who were sitting in plastic beach chairs in front of the bungalows. In their native Bislama language, the girls told Willie that the owner, Jo, was in the village. I decided that I would wait for him to get back and the girls pulled up another chair for me to join them.
A few minutes later. Jo arrived back from the village and showed me to my accommodations- a very basic bungalow which consisted of a twin bed with bug netting, a small bedside table with a kerosene lamp, and a porch on the front of the bungalow that overlooked the jungle atmosphere. The bungalow is very cute and cosy, but it is not equipped with electricity. The bathroom facilities were not anything that I was not already accustomed to. The toilet itself was a western style one with a bucket of water to be used for flushing. The shower consisted of a large bucket and a small coconut shell to be used to scoop up the water from the larger bucket for rinsing.

As I was organizing my few belongings on my bed (I left the bulk of my luggage back in Port Vila), I noticed that the girls had made their way onto my porch. I told them that I would like to explore the village and to my relief they agreed to give me a tour.

Walking through the village was like walking through a different period in time. Chickens crossed the dirt pathways, pigs munched on mangoes on the lawns, and women sat in the grass in front of buckets of water in which they washed their clothes. We passed numerous women who carried cardboard boxes and leaves on their heads. I found the village stores to be especially cute in that they consisted solely of a closet size room with an outside netting. There was a tiny peephole to view the merchandise, and if you wished to buy something, you rang the bell provided out front. The thing that struck me in a strange way was seeing three young girls sitting in the sand on the beach, plucking the feathers from a freshly slaughtered chicken.
The highlight of the tour for me was when three young children came running gleefully toward me with their greetings of hello. Kathleen, one of my young guides, told me that the young children love white people. She also said that they were her brother and sisters, but I got the hint that Kathleen was a little bit confused about the true definition of "brother" and "sister", since she called everyone in passing her "brother." Anyways, just watching these babies rolling around in their underwear while giggling with one another, absolutely melted my heart. I tried to take a video to capture just how cute the conversation that we had together was, but my camera battery started to die, and so I was only able to capture about 2 seconds of them. I find it so fascinating to observe the young ni- Van children because they are so different from children back home. Because their standard of living is so basic, they expect very little and are so good natured. Also, because their upbringing is so centered on the community as a whole, they are so sweet and kind.

Today, I fell in love with an entire village

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