21.05.2018 - I arrived, hot and excited at midnight on May 3rd after, can you believe, 18 hours of travelling, starting a Timaru airport at 6.00am. You would have thought I was going to Africa via Dubai, which may be shorter than that. I was supposed to read my romantic novel but settled for people watching and low and behold in Auckland, beside the Air Vanuatu check-in, a huge group of Ni-Van Seasonal Workers were there to entertain me with their stories. Everyone had huge luggage, maybe I was the lightest bag at 28.7kgs.
So at midnight in Port Vila, romantically like my book, our lovely Country Programme Officer Brigitte was there with open arms to greet me. Someone from NZAID drove us through the quiet town to the hotel for the night. Murphy’s law, my room was up two huge flights of stairs and that bag and others had to go up. Lucky I have Bislama language off pat and I asked the security to help (actually take all of it) and gave him a handsome tip for his gracious help. Tipping not something done too much in Vanuatu but the lovely big smile and help was worth it.
First day: administration meetings. Five beautifully planned, one eventuated, all not on their seat as it is said! I did find my Early Childhood counterpart from my 2014-2017 VSA Assignment and we had a great lunch catch up.
Saturday was my BIRTHDAY, and a great reunion at the seafront children’s playground was arranged. I was going to meet my adopted family again, the grandmother sharing the same birthday date as me, and the two grandchildren, six and eight years old, who I have known since birth, and their mum who I have known since she was a girl. So I waited, feet in the sand, time going slowly, then the children appeared tearing around the corner. Jumping up into my arms, we spun around in so much joy, just a special moment in time. I had carefully preserved many Easter eggs and carried them as hand luggage with tiny ice packs to share with children who knew about chocolate rabbits and marshmallow eggs from knowing this Kiwi volunteer.
Let the party begin: Hats, cups, plates, meat bought, dancing lessons Polynesian style to go to (every Saturday for my small namesake Wendy) and chicken and chips for all. Then it was find a bus, wait for a bus, talk to a willing driver and all on board to go to the village on Eratap peninsular. The grandmother’s house was built seven years ago, flat iron cover around the walls and natangora leaf as the roof, enough space for a little family to sleep and store some bags of clothes.
We cooked up a storm on the fire. The big sons had cut the firewood then discreetly gone to where the men were huddled and talking man things. We invited the surrounding mama neighbours and children, lay down a mat under a wee shelter and served pawpaw and vegetable salad, and rice and meat soup. Then came the amazing heart-shaped cake for us birthday ladies. We both crouched down to blow the candles, laugh some more and wished ourselves a great year ahead, pretty special.
Sleeping in the local house was the most relaxing ever, the children played with glow in the dark bracelets I bought for them making all sorts of colourful wheels, laughing and tumbling around on their designated place on their mattress. Us birthday ladies talked and caught up on all and sundry till sleep won everyone over and the still of a village evening was finally only disturbed by the early morning rooster. This was a birthday of extraordinary emotions, of care and friendship, to begin a new adventure in Vanuatu.
The next day became a day with the children down at the river that spills out into the sea called Shark Bay, there adults and children fished and swam and played like there was an endless summer in our life.
All too soon it was time to climb aboard an early morning flight to Santo, further to the north and hotter, oops.
So I have struck lucky, a beautiful house with all the amenities and a lovely landlord and daughter, in a serene location, overlooking the sea to a graceful island a few minutes’ free boat ride away.
I am now working at the Agriculture College with an amazing set of people, who are warm and fun and have made me laugh from the moment I arrived. We have about 100 Certificate 1V and Diploma Students in a vast amazing space of greenery and plants and fish and vegetable plots. We can give a little money to students to buy their vegetables when their project is harvested and eggs appear from somewhere. There are also bee colonies, I learned, as a staff member retold his story on Monday of being attacked by a swarm of hungry bees while on his tractor cutting the grass. He ran and was next seen plastered in sugar all over his arms and face to quell the swelling.
It is going to be a great year and busy work will be balanced by weekend water play and village stays.