Monday, September 24, 2007

gaua, chapterette the third: unparalleled peace and quiet. and church.

the trek (see last post) included an unfortunate incident involving a slippery rock, some branches, a borrowed pair of flip-flops, and a late-night potty trip into the bush, all ganging up on one poor helpless little toenail. the toenail, alas, was lost. gory details, i know! but it's already growing happily back.

the toenail incident, combined with boots i hadn't worn in a while, really did chew up my feet. as a result i was forced to kind of just stay at my bungalows for a few days after my return, not doing much walking, so that my feet could heal up without infection. plus i was knackered anyway. the heat and humidity can really wipe one out even without much exertion.

i used the days after my trek to write. i think i have come to a couple of breakthroughs as far as writing this book, at least in my head and in my notes. doing any formal writing here, though, is very hard, because i have a little tiny screen on my ancient handheld (running windows mobile 2000! awright!) to work with. the bungalow's generator, on which i relied to charge my handheld, only ran for an hour or two each day... when they had fuel. when they didn't, dinner was by flashlight and there were some very dark, moonless nights in there.

there is a beach very close to where i stayed on gaua that is just beautiful, and i was usually alone except for the occasional kid catching crab with a slingshot bow-and-arrow, or lady digging for clams. i went swimming with the little electric blue fish, or climbed on the rocks with the crabs.

the airport has the only working (well, sort of working) public telephone on the island. so on rosh hashana (erev rosh hashana in the US) i walked the half hour to the airport in the hot sun, to call and wish my parents l'shana tova. but the phone wasn't working. so i walked back.

moveline, who took care of me at the bungalows where i'm staying, was practically the only person i talked to for a few days. she cooked me scrumptious dishes, almost exclusively featuring freshly-caught fish and seafood from nearby kaska bay. starches were usually kumala (sweet potato) or yam (which is not a sweet potato; i have now finally learned the difference). also an abundance of pawpaw (papaya) and pamplimous (grapefruit), various coconut products, and juices. probably as healthy as i've ever eaten. and i have learned to like fish again! the sorry-looking (and tasting) river fish in belarus turned me off of fish for years. the robust and flavorful fish of the south pacific may have finally turned me back onto it.

in the dark, dark nights (moonless and generatorless) i went to bed very early, with mosquito netting secured around me, and a most intelligent but quite stinky mutt named poty (apparently intenionally reminiscent of "potty") curled up outside the bungalow to guard me. then i'd be up with the dawn to write and wander around for another day.

moveline was utterly wonderful to me, my mama on gaua. and then when i started to explain my spiritual beliefs and mentioned that i normally worship on saturday, she said "oh, i am SDA!" ... and i wound up falling in with the seventh-day adventist crowd.

so, church on saturday was a great highlight of my time on gaua. over and over again i got the precious vanuatu handshake and eye contact -- deliberate and slow with an honest, open face and genuine smile. i didn't understand much of the teaching at church, but the pastor referred to the Bible frequently so i took that for a good sign. people are very, very sincere about their chrisitan beliefs here. that doesn't stop them from believing in sorcerers and magic and the like. i did get a good feeling of honesty and purity in most everyone i met, on gaua at any rate.

after church i went to the airport to try another call to my family, and i eventually met with success this time. at the airport i met two peace corps volunteers, valerie and erin. when i told people i was american they all immediately assumed i was with the peace corps. vanuatu has about 80 peace corps, 3 of whom are on gaua.

vanuatu also has more lanuages per capita than any other country in the world: 113 or so known languages. seven of those on gaua alone. so valerie and erin, for instance, are picking up bits and pieces of two different local languages, though they live a couple of hours' walk apart. i learned many phrases in the language that's spoken at kaska bay, but those won't be much use to me anywhere else in vanuatu! most people do not speak english, either, but use bislama -- a sort of pidgin english that i'm finally beginning to pick up a bit -- to communicate with speakers of other languages.

one more chapterette to go.

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