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A very VSA Christmas

Published on 16th December 2013


While many of our volunteers return home for the holidays, a handful will be staying put, or taking advantage of their proximity to stunning holiday destinations to celebrate Christmas.

The lights, Christmas carols and tinsel are out in full force in Bougainville, but volunteers Mark Chambers and partner Viktoria Degerman are planning a trip to New Ireland province on Christmas day, where they’ll spend a “lazy week cycling up the coast road, known as the Boluminski Highway,” Mark says.

 

Bougainville Xmas 2

Viktoria in line at the festive Digicel office.

Bougainville Xmas 3

More tinsel and decorations around Buka.

They’re planning the flight and speedboat trip to New Ireland for Christmas Day, and Mark notes with the voice of experience that “this being the Pacific”, there are any number of delays that could, and probably will, arise. So while they may not be in their chosen destination on the big day, wherever they are “will most likely be hot, sweaty and full of friendly smiles from the locals we meet.”

 

While Timor-Leste Programme Manager Karen Horton won’t be staying in-country this year, she says the Timorese take on the traditional nativity scene - 'prezepiu' -  has already popped up around town. Prezepiu are a major part of Christmas in Timor-Leste, unique because the elaborate and often innovative displays are constructed solely by young people.

 

They’re guarded round the clock, but festively – with guitars, singing, drinking and dancing – and Karen says visitors are always welcome. “Even more welcome if they admire the Prezepiu and congratulate the youth-builders or give money.”

 

Bill Hardie Dili nativity scene

Prezepiu in Dili, photographed by Bill Hardie, who volunteered there 2012-2012.

 

Melanie in the office

Mel in the office.

Solomon Islands-based volunteer Melanie Phillips says that the VSA experience can often mean being away from family, which “reinforces that friends are the family you choose for yourself – so many of us are without family during Christmas but it doesn't stop you spending your Christmas Day with people who make you happy and put a smile on your face.”

 

This year, though, she has put out the call to her international family, and they’ll all converge on the Uepi Resort, at the northern tip of Uepi Island, from the UK, USA and Spain.

 

It’s unlikely she’ll be homesick, then – but she does admit to missing a “glass of good New Zealand wine”.

 

As for what Mark will miss as he cycles his way around Bougainville with partner Viktoria – he says even after eight years living in New Zealand, what he most misses about Christmas is actually from his previous home in Europe: “the cold, darkness, possibility of a white Christmas and of course huddling around a fire with my family”.

 

People who’ve been in Bougainville for a long time, he adds, say the longer they’re there, the less they understand the place. “So I’m just looking forward to some Christmas Day surprises.”

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