15.04.2009 31 °C
We just returned yesterday from the tropical paradise of Ambae. It was a very good and rewarding, as well as difficult and stretching experience. There are so many stories we could tell, and there are many good people that we have met. Dwaine and I had the privilege of staying with Pastor Eston and his family. His wife Maureen and their 8 kids (6 biological, 2 adopted from other families in Vanuatu) always left us with plenty of entertainment. I will go a step back further and explain a bit of our journey to get to Ambae. The island is 50 km off the coast of Santo, Vanuatu’s largest island. We decided to travel with Ps Eston and his son Lyndon by boat to get there. After the boat was delayed two nights due to rain and lack of cargo, we left Thursday evening, April 2nd. It took 5 hours to get there, and another 2 or so hours to actually get to our village due to the boat only being able to drop off passengers and cargo via a smaller boat. Then we all piled into a pick-up truck to traverse our way through dense vines, banana trees, and coconut palms. The coast always had the sound of waves crashing against the volcanic rock beaches that line this area of the island. When we arrived to Eston’s home we were greeted by children from the surrounding areas, many ducks and chickens, and a beautiful sunshining day. Our adventures then began….
Dwaine and I set about collecting coconuts the following day in order to start the long and tedious process of making coconut oil. One has to pick up the coconuts, then remove the husks, crack the coconut shells with a bush knife, then the inside flesh has to be grated (all by hand), and dried over a fire/furnance (heated by the coconut husks & shells), then when it is dried it is taken over to the handy-dandy coconut press and the squeezing begins. Each coconut has about approximately 35ml of oil to contribute to the finished process…..it was a whole lot of effort for 50 bottles (350ml each) and 4 days worth of work!
We also had the opportunity to do many other things. From fishing out on the water, to playing volleyball several times (the villagers really know how to play), to swimming almost every day, to jumping from the rocks into the sea (not too high, don’t worry!), to playing skip-bo and go fish with the kids, and going to church a lot….our days were filled with many activities. Dwaine helped to render the outside of Eston’s house with cement, and I learned the process of making their traditional food of lap lap (a dish made from bananas or taro or sweet potatoes grated up and then it is cooked in banana leaves). We even had the chance to teach on two occasions about health and hygiene. The people are very helpful, and their lives may be simple but they are very joyful. They mainly live on bananas and coconuts and any other fresh fruit that comes from the jungle. People were very generous to us in bringing us or showing us where to find coconuts, papaya, grapefruit, paplemos (a sweeter grapefruit), pineapple, bananas, and oranges….they even have watermelons and mangos in certain seasons. If you are hungry, you can just go and find some fruit on the tree for a snack!
During our 12 days there we also had our first wedding anniversary and celebrated Easter. These were both very interesting experiences that left us feeling a bit home-sick. Not one person said “Happy Anniversary” to us on the actual day. We did have 2 cards from home that helped us through, but since it is not a major deal for the Vanuatu people it was just another cultural difference that we noticed. Easter time was also not too much of a celebration, but more so a time to head to the church bells. We had a church service every night all weekend long, and then had a picnic on the beach Easter Monday (which was quite a good time!). Overall, we felt disappointed in missing our normal family gatherings and were wishing we could have been together for the special time of celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection. Dwaine and I are planning on going away for a few nights this weekend in order to properly celebrate our 1st wedding anniversary! Wow, what a year it has been! I can’t believe it has already been that long!
Now to our current and upcoming plans….we are in Luganville on Santo for probably the next week and a half or so. We met a missionary named Brian from Texas before we left to Ambae that offered for us to stay in their guest house for a short period. Yesterday we were able to move our things to the guest house, and it is truly a great blessing. We had a shower yesterday (even with warm water) for the first time in several weeks, since bucket showers are the go on Ambae. During our time here we have already started a painting project, and finished another part of it today for Ps William, who has recently started a Boy’s Centre that provides Bible studies and classes for the community and some of the prisoners at the local jail. We plan on helping him where we can, and then maybe doing some work around Brian’s house. After we may have the opportunity to go and visit a couple that are missionaries in the bush further in the north of Santo for a few days. Then after our plans at this point are to return to Ambae (even though they had a going-away feast for us and even gave us gifts such as an island dress for me and an island shirt for Dwaine) for maybe another 12 days or so….and soon after our flight will be bringing us back to the wonderful land of Australia. All of the plans could change in an instant, as flexibility must be the precursor to every action and thought here. There have been some very rough times during our stay here, but there have been many rewards and relationships formed that make it all worth it. And if you noticed a patch on my forehead in one of the pictures I was helping to cut apart a tree that fell down and I got into a fight with a stick and the stick won! It’s nothing serious, we are just really cautious to keep any wounds & cuts clean and sterile. Until we are able to write again, God bless and take care…