#650 – Dick Bernard: Mary Ann Goes to Vanuatu.

UPDATE April 5, 2015: It has been almost a year since the last update. Recently Vanuatu was hit by a major cyclone. Mary Ann (at home in suburban Rochester NY) sent a note and the following pieces of information from Vanuatu about the cylone and its aftermath. Pam’s visit. Also: Butterfly Trust Cyclone Pam Update_31 Mar 2015.
Her note: Vanuatu…What next and who really knows?!
Cyclone Pam lingered over and destroyed so much of the island country less than a month ago and although it will barely make a world wide news story now the impact continues to impress me in an almost surreal sort of way-was it only a year ago when I was there and standing on so many of the spots that have been destroyed.
My friends Brenda and Bill recount their experiences during the night of the storm and share some insights into the process of beginning to recover and I invite you to read Brenda’s note. Also included is a little more lengthy note from friends Lynn and Dave which includes information on a New Zealand group I worked with while I was on Island Malekula, The Butterfly Trust. I was so impressed with their tireless efforts to better the medical and education standards on this remote island country. I had the privilege of coordinating some of the short term medical and dental team projects at the Health Center in Lamap. These Kiwi’s work tirelessly to raise funds to send teams to underserved areas and their consistent efforts over the last seven years were beginning to make an impact. I was ablt to help with implementation of projects because I knew the language and had longer experiences with the culture and the local villages and those experiences, for me, were some of the most satisfying that I had while I was on assignment in Vanuatu with the Peace Corps.
Now, of course, most of that progress has been severely affected by survival needs. Lynn noted that my house near the Health Center (cyclone proof) had been destroyed and the Health Center itself was a shambles. Rebuilding will happen but I know that south eastern Malekula, with over three thousand ‘ni-vans’ (name for locals) spread over 34 villages will wait many years before it is anywhere near where it was when I left……progress right now will be measured by getting holding tanks rebuilt to collect rain water for drinking, getting supplies (tin and thatch) to the area to rehabilitate housing, and getting food to supplement the meager supply left after the local gardens were flattened.
News stories come and go, lives are impacted and sympathy is extended, comfortable lives and lifestyles are often under appreciated but I encourage all of you to continue to look at your place on this planet as a privilege and look at the things that you do that are helping make your corner a worthwhile place not only to inhabit but to leave for future generations!
I do…..most of the time!
UPDATE Thursday, June 26, 2014: 27,000 words or so down (at the end of this post) begin my sister Mary Ann’s final thoughts from the South Seas posted June 20 from Vanuatu and June 26 at the airport in Nadi, Fiji. Her tour in Vanuatu, which began in October, 2012, has now ended, and she will be in the U.S. on the 27th of June. (Scroll a fairly short way down for a map of Vanuatu.)
Best wishes to all.
UPDATE October 12, 2013: Facebook album just added, which includes the following photo, and this text: “These are primarily photos taken by my sister Mary Ann’s friend, Malcolm, mostly on an October, 2013, visit to Vanuatu, though the first seven photos apparently are from much earlier in her tour, which began about one year ago. It is noticed that Mary has lost a lot of weight. She commented on this in a very recent phone call. It is a combination of diet and heat. Our Mom would diplomatically comment, I’m pretty sure, “she’s looking a little thin”. The ocean where Mary does her water exercise is said to not be shark infested, though Malcolm says that an 11-12′ shark was seen about a mile away a week after he left. Too close for me!”

Mary Ann ca October 2013

Mary Ann ca October 2013

Image 15
Image 7
UPDATE JULY 16, 2013: See July 13 & 16, 2013 e-letters from Mary Ann at end of this post.
UPDATE May 29, 2013: Today arrived two maps and a number of photographs of Mary Ann in her current assignment on an island of Vanuatu.
The Facebook Photo Album is here.
The two maps are here,Lamap Vanuatu #1 , and here Lamap Vanuatu #2
On the first map, her Clinic is the largest building in the center portion of the photo; her house is the structure immediately to the right of the Clinic in the photo.
UPDATE May 9, 2013: More mail from Mary: a letter mailed April 17 in Vanuatu and received May 6 in Minnesota is at the end of this post. Check the map for the two places mentioned in her letter: Malekula and Ambryn. She apparently is stationed on the east side of Malekula and can see the volcano on Ambryn. As they come, contents will be added at the end of this post. She’ll be surprised to learn that this ‘epistle’ of hers now exceeds 12,000 words! Everything is somewhere on the internet, and as Mary pointed out in her post today, enter Vanuatu blogs in your search engine and up will come up many options, including photographs and sales pitches. To save you the effort, here is the general link. If you write her (address below) for sure include South Pacific Islands in the address.
UPDATE Dec. 22, 2012: At 3 p.m. today I received a brief phone call from Mary in Vanuatu, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Back-and-forth from each ends with “over” because of time lag. She was calling from her assigned area. Even though it is hot and dry in vanuatu, Christmas is abundantly celebrated there, she says. A little earlier today came a second letter from Mary Ann, the contents of which are added to the end of this post. The letter was dated November 28, 2012. (Below is included contents of an e-mail from her sent December 3, 2012 which contains some of the same information.)
UPDATE Dec. 13, 2012: Some folks have asked about mailing letters to Mary. It can be done, but it takes quite a long time, sender to destination, under the best of circumstances, especially if one forgets the most important element of the address, the last words.
Here is the entire mailing address:
Mary Ann Maher
Peace Corps Vanuatu
PMB 9097
Port Vila
South Pacific Islands
Today my sister Mary Ann is 70. That’s hard to believe. When she was born, I was the only child, 2 1/2. I thought she was a pest. She and two of our three other siblings verify that I could be less than kind (the youngest, John, was too young to bother with, I guess! At any rate, he’s never lamented living in the same house with me.)
Anyway, Mary Ann (she goes by Mary) is 70 today and she’s somewhere on Vanuatu, small island country in the remote South Pacific, apparently a third-world country that is said to be the happiest place on earth.
Mary was here to visit Sep 26-Oct 1, and a few days later left for Vanuatu preparing for her tour of duty in the Peace Corps as a Health Care worker there (she’s a retired Nurse Practitioner). (see map at end of this post. click on photos to enlarge them.)

Mary Ann (at left) at Franco-Fete Sep 30, 2012. Seated next to her are my spouse, Cathy, and my brother Frank.

Here’s a BBC story about Vanuatu, and a couple of maps of its vicinity (look for the arrows pointing to the approximate spot: Vanuatu001
Here’s Mary’s in-person account of her first days in Vanuatu. (She is by nature an adventurous spirit, and has previously had many interesting experiences in many countries, including two tours on the Hospital Ship Hope earlier in her career. I’ll attribute that to the family Voyageur gene from the French-Canadian ancestors Blondeau! The rest of us seem to share that gene as well.)
As our Dad used to say, I’ll follow her exploits on paper. A friend has already suggested that she do a blog of her own!
Mary Ann, October 10, 2012:
Hi all…your first taste of bislama (Means Peace Corps and You Week)
Just a quick update as we have been sprung from the training camp for the afternoon to come into town to get immunizations and do some interviews at the Peace Corps Office. There are thirty trainees and to say the days are full is an understatement! Breakfast call at 7 AM and lights out at 9 PM (cause that is when the three hours of generator power ends!!)
Add to that jet lag from the 22 hour plane trip and temperatures of 90 degrees with 100 percent humidity and this is quite the place! Beautiful, reminiscent of Jamaica but any thoughts of visiting Vanuatu would not be this time of the year. My leather sandals and expensive orthotics will just have to rest for a few months till the weather cools down. Fortunately, I have a great pair of sandals that I can wear and the rest of the clothing that I brought is ‘island appropriate’ – long skirts and loose tops always for the women but needless to say that anything wet will stay wet for a couple of days. The camp is right off a lagoon and there is a decent breeze.
Food is prepared for us by the Pango Mammas (must be sort of like a church group but I have not really figured that one out yet) We have island foods – papaya/mango/orange/cabbage/yams/carrots/potatoes/kassa/and a splash of some kind of meat with the three meal a day rice and beans. Instant milk is the only dairy as there are no refrigerators. I have not seen an egg all week but apparently they are available. Water here is fine so that is a big plus.
Food is good – heavy on the starch, light on the chocolate, absent on the desserts. Oh well – all acquired tastes!
Went to the clinic yesterday to observe some community health in action (my area) Basic, for sure, but again, very reminiscent of the rural areas in Jamaica.
Tomorrow is a day of water safety (AKA snorkeling on the reef) and on Saturday we move to the training village. I am one day ahead of all of you and there is 10 hours of [time] difference on the east coast.
We are not sure yet about our placements as those assignments do not come down until we are here another two to three weeks. Suffice it to say it will be in a village setting on one of the islands and since there are fourteen with peace corps placements I can only guess at this point.
More later .. next week is “Laef long Komuniti Mo Save About Wok Blong Yu Week”, or bislama for living in your community with your host family.
Have a great day-enjoy your parkas and cool weather!
October 31, 2012: Mary Ann’s first correspondence home since she arrived in Vanuatu.
I did send an air letter about a week ago and hopefully you will get it [Nov 10, not here yet]. When you do please route it around. I am doing fine but off in the village of Malafau so the e mail time is very limited. We came into the port city today (Port Vila) so I do have internet access for a few hours. Bottom line is that I am learning Bislama, living with a family of eight, and have no water or electricity. Use solar for the flashlight and the reading light and carry water from the town pump for boiling for drinking and for the ‘bucket showers’. But I have banana and coconut and mango in my yard and I have a little bamboo house all to myself .. the village is very clean.
Training is very thorough and next week I will spend a week with a peace corps program on Pentecost Island.

I’m really proud of her.
Happy birthday, Mary!
UPDATE Nov. 15, 2012:
Today came the promised letter from Mary, which was mailed October 26. This pdf includes her mailing address if you wish to send a post to her. Mary Ann fr Vanuatu 001. Note it took three weeks from posting to delivery! Those of you acquainted with Mary’s legibility will note that her text is readable. Regardless, here is what she said:
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Hi all – I will write a ‘routeable’ letter to catch you up on the first three weeks of this Peace Corps adventure. We had one week in the training camp after we got here on Saturday, October 5.
The camp was just outside the capital city of Port Vila, Etare Island, Cauatu. There are six provinces in Vanuatu and each is comprised of some of the 83 total islands.
After the first week we divided our group of Peace Corps trainees and went to two training villages. We will be in the training villages for most of the next eight weeks and will learn the language, culture stuff and more of what we will be doing.
I am in the Macafau village. There are twenty-eight families here and no running water or electricity.
I have a small bamboo house with a bed and a table and chair.
It is very hot and humid here, but we have only had two days of heavy rain. The village is very clean and the village workers have big gardens for the market.
My host family has a mama, papa and six children – all of whom speak rapid fire Bislama mixed with a local dialect, some French and some English. Its quite a mixed bag of words but hopefully some will will stick to my aged brain.
The host family is responsible for feeding us and helping us with language skills.
We have training classes for 8-10 hours each day and although that will slow down, it is still very intense.
I am quite amazed and impressed at how thorough the training is. Peace Corps is a contribution in kind of the United State government to the World Health Organization global initiatives on health care and they seem to take it very seriously. We will be teaching good nutrition and basic sanitation and basic health care practices.
Some of the diseases that are here include lung diseases (lots of volcanic activity and wood open fires), heart diseases (crappy diet with too much salt) and diabetes. The local foods are seasonal but very healthy if prepared without so much salt, sugar, and oil. I have a banana tree, coconut trees, pineapple bushes and mango right outside and of course there are the root foods of yam and manioc and kassava.
Protein comes from fish and eggs but there is also some beet and lots of chickens. The pigs are raised but are given in dowry for marriage. I just broke open a coconut and scratched out the meat so we could make dinner. Everything is so labor intensive but time is minuscule to the mamas who do most of the cooking.
Today I went to the river with my bucket of dirty clothes and while I sat in the river I washed clothes! The concept of washers and dryer is a long way way from Vanuatu!
Uncle George [Busch, Naval officer in the Pacific in WWII] would be happy to know that the Americans here in WWII were much appreciated by the islanders and they did build some roads and wells. There is a large WWII maritime museum a few miles from here filled with many of the things from the ships. I wonder if George ever mentioned Vanuatu in his letters?! [Dick: I read most of them, and I don’t recall any reference.]
Hope all are doing well! I may have internet access every few weeks but hopefully letters will get through.
Love, Mary
(click to enlarge map)


E-UPDATE from Mary Ann received December 3, 2012:
Hi guys…another group note to read and share! I really have to guard computer time and space because it is very limited. We came in from the training villages on Sunday (yesterday here-today there) and our group of 30 trainees in Group 25-Vanuatu can now look in the rear view mirror at language and culture training in various villages though it will never really end! Training continues this week and then next week we head to our final island assignments. I will be going to the island of Ambrae-more on that later!
But here in Vila we are housed in a motel – the Pacific Paradise – and have showers with running water – electricity – and access to a kitchen. I made grilled cheese sandwiches yesterday for lunch and even hard cooked a few eggs! The motel is a long two mile hill from the Peace Corps office where I am typing this note. We just got back from the bank and got ATM cards as our salary (about 10 dollars a day) will be deposited regularly in the account. In addition Peace Corps arranges and pays for travel and housing so the money is quite adequate. I came back into Vila with almost 12000 VATU or 120 American dollars. There is nothing to spend money on in the villages for sure. Malafau Village gave us a very big send off on Saturday and the whole village of 126 residents lined up for handshakes. We all got yet another tie dyed island dress so my wardrobe of dresses and salasala (those big flower necklaces) keeps growing. But, I have learned plenty of bislama and hope to pass the proficiency test at the advanced intermediate level this week….no pressure there but I am minimally competent in the language after the last few months of long pauses and awkward phrases at the dinner table. Also can crack coconuts, find and chop firewood, cut down banana trees, plant many island foods and cook lots of stuff from the trees and plants in the yard (try 16 ways to prepare papaya). Pineapples and avocadoes are the fruits and vegetables of the month.
I am assigned to work in a Provincial Health Office on the island of Ambae and my title is Advisor to the Provincial Health Officer. I met my counterpart (Marlkow) on Saturday and to say he is excited about working with an “oldfala” peace corps nurse is an understatement. He is literally glowing and apparently the assignment is a good one. At least I am not in the bush and up a ridiculous hill in a village with no water. I will have cyclone proof housing (meaning it is concrete), an outhouse of course, a small garden, two chickens for centipede control and eggs, one pig that I can feed leftovers to and maybe four hours of solar generated power a day and I will work mostly in the Provincial Health office for the Penema Province. The 83 Islands in this country are divided into six provinces and I am in a provincial center named Lolawei. I will be training the teachers of village health care workers and setting up training programs for nurse aides in the hospital. I have about a 30 minute walk from the village where I will live (Seratomato) to my workplace and the hospital is a provincial center – don’t get excited, that means there is 24 hour electricity but it is a 14 bed hospital with no doctors and one nurse practitioner who does everything from baby deliveries to stitches. There is no lab or x-ray or surgery capability there so to say it is very minimal is probably an understatement. I have found that when the third world says we ‘need some help here’ they generally mean things have become pretty run down. But, I am on a beautiful lagoon, and although the weather is very hot on this island, the hospital and the housing are very close to the sea and hopefully there will be some cool months coming up when we are though the cyclone (hurricane) season. I will be shipping my stuff on a ship next Monday but will fly to my island on a plane (likely the same 8 seater that I went on when I went to Pentecost Island). We are limited to 10 kilo or 20 pounds of baggage on a plane.
Also, not a hilly trek for me which is good although the exercise of walking regularly will be good for my leg. My knee is much better and I am optimistic that the rest of the swelling will disappear – I came with a three inch difference in circumference and am now down to one inch!
Mail is notoriously awful here so don’t frustrate yourselves trying to write letters….if you do expect that I will not receive it for 3-6 weeks and then only if you put South Pacific Island in the address line. Apparently the US postal service is not very familiar with Vanuatu so mail has gone most everywhere else that starts with a V-Vietnam, Venezuala.
You can write e notes at the address volunteer@vu.peacecorps.gov and in the subject line just write Mary Maher Group 25 and staff will print off the email letter and send it to the island so I will get it on the weekly mail delivery to Lolawei. It is a real learning and acceptance curve to go from high speed internet and real time communication to that sort of delay. I will continue to have cell phone coverage but for those of “yufala” I have actually talked to the conversations are on a 3-5 second delay so one person says ‘over’ when finished speaking! Still good emergency conversations and texting can happen regularly! Lots of pictures on facebook and more to come although the humidity has done in my camera (rusted the battery) and I hope to get it fixed this week. If not able, I will wait a few months before replacing it.
So much for todays note and I will likely write another early next week! Merry Christmas preparations to everybody!! Thinking of everyone also and wishing you good heath!
Love Mary
UPDATE December 7, 2012: An e-note and two photos from Mary Ann.

Mary with Host Family on Vanuatu Dec. 6, 2012

Hi Guys….The pictures were taken at the swearing in yesterday [note received Dec. 7 U.S.]. That is my host mama and host papa Rena and Jimmy. It was a very nice ceremony for sure!! I am just finishing up my packing to send things on the ship to Ambae tomorrow morning. The ship should get to the island about the same time that I do but with this being the cyclone season sometimes the seas get pretty rough very quickly. I will be flying there and of course planes are also affected but not as much. I will have another four days in Port Vila and it will be nice once the shipping part is done.. maybe will be like a real vacation as long as the generator in the motel six…AKA Pacific Paradise…continues to function! My roommate is a young teacher and she scatters everything around the place so I feel a little crowded out at times. Ironically, she thinks she is very neat – ah the ignorance of youth!!
[Request to daughter, Rebecca, to buy a new camera] My Canon died with the humidity and the dunk in the salt water!! This camera is not a battery camera but I can recharge it at the hospital and apparently it works well in this type of weather as it is waterproof. I am hoping for the best.
Lukim yu (Bislama for Later!) Luv yufala tumas!! Just guess on that one….
UPDATE: November 28, 2012 letter received December 22, 2012:
Merry Christmas!
Another short note – route if so inclined!
I was hoping to start a pen pal arrangement for kids but the postal service is non-existent in the villages.
Training ends this week and I have a whole new set of survival skills at the ready. we will be assigned our villages next week, but it will most likely be in a place like the training village. No electricity or running water and a bamboo hut to live in. The huts are surprisingly cool in the heat and humidity and not too hard to maintain. You can Google-map my village (Malafau – Etare Island – Vanuatu!) [Dick: tried this, didn’t work. Stay tuned. You can find Port Vila Vanuatu via Google, and travel around the island….]
I’m just a few miles from the peninsula where “Survivor” was filmed and about a mile from the WWII Museum – kind of a loose assortment of battles from the days when the Navy was present here. The island people think very highly of the Americans here during WWII and the few good roads and airstrips are a result of American dollars.
I continue to be impressed with the friendliness of the village folk and how hard they must work just to get food son the table and pay the school fees. This family that I stay with makes and sells charcoal. A very dusty and dirty job. Right now they are throwing wood into the fire pit. it will burn for 3 days, cool for 3 days and then next week they will bag it and take it to the market. Each bag sold is worth $8.00. Weather will remain hot and humid for the next few weeks.
This is the end of the school term and today I taught nutrition to 5th graders. In the family I have been living with the kids walk four miles each way to school. Weather is hot. They leave about 6 am and return between 4:30 pm and 5 pm. Amazing strength and energy. Even the 8 year old can cut firewood and cook dinner over the open fire, the have 6 weeks off now and then return for first term 2013. The school year is all year or three terms. Two of the kids go to a French school and two go to an English school. Teachers are reassigned every year so it can be a stressful job for them as well.
Enjoy the holidays and stay well. Love, Mary.
UPDATE: Letter from Mary to sister Flo, sent December 30, received January 18.
Sunday, December 30, 2012
Hi, Flo and Carter – just finished a delicious dinner of island beans and Kumala and onion and Kapsicum. I find it easy to cook here as there is so much stuff. I also had cucumber. The Kumala (yam) and Kapsicum (green pepper) look different but taste very similar
One of the hard things is the time and labor to cook. I had as much throw away compost as I did food to cook.
This is Christmas break so many of the villagers are off “visiting grandma” and the markets are all closed but I have a neighbor who brings me a few things from her garden so I get plenty to eat.
I had to move this week as my first village ran out of water so now I am a short walk from my work place, the provincial health office. I also have two hours of electricity at night! (smiley face!) My visitors this morning were five school children who just sat on the porch area and drew pictures. I’ll get more pencils and easy to read books when I go back to Vila in February.
I’m lucky at this site as people speak Bislama and English and French and the local dialect. I can understand and am getting better at speaking Bislama.
My house is concrete and sits on a high hill just off the harbor area so I hear waves crashing all the time – sort of a perpetual noise machine. The weather continues very hot and humid and will likely be this way for another two months – The good news is that I have already tolerated it for more than three months so am half way through “summer”. I do look forward to some coolness!
I plan a couple of weeks in San Diego around Mother’s Day this (2013) year. Rebecca has a few weeks left [in her pregnancy] … They both look forward to the baby! [note: baby Zander was born Jan.. 14].
I look forward to the trip and will come back after spending some serious money at an REI type store. So much of what I have just doesn’t work well in the “outdoorsy” and hot place. I’ll start with a “Leatherman” and a decent backpack and walking sandals. I also will look for nylon or quick drying clothing! Live and learn. I don’t plan to go any farther inland than San Diego at this point.
Whoops, forgot to tell you that I also made some banana chips! Use the plantain or green banana and fry it in oil and salt!! Very good. I bought some olive oil before I came to the island and also some spices and herbs. I will be getting a cat next week as I don’t like the rats at all and they seem to be everywhere. Getting used to all critters great and small but the rats are annoying for sure!! Sort of mouse size!!
Love, Mary
From Mary via e-mail January 21, 2013:
Update from Lolowai – Island Ambae – Vanuatu, South Pacific
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Obviously the second big excitement in my life this week is a loan of a very old Chinesey computer that runs only when the power is on…two or three hours a day (except yesterday when it was not on at all and I sure don’t know why!!) I look forward to bringing a laptop with a battery back with me when I go to San Diego in March to spend some time with Rebecca and Mike and new baby Zander Henry Sanchez (the first big excitement of my life this week). I debated the trip for all of 32 seconds and then decided that is what social security is really for! However, getting off the island and back into the real world is a matter of lots of logistics and simply couldn’t happen overnight or very quickly so March it is!!
Work is very interesting and also very challenging. My big project to date was organizing an inventory of dated health promotion materials. Some packets were ten years old and had never been opened and distributed! Information on toothbrushing, handwashing, nutrition, family planning, smoking cessation, STD, and other stuff was not outdated, just old and smelly. Organizations such as WHO, Save the Children, New World Visions, Ausaid, and others clearly spend a lot of money and time developing and preparing and printing high quality health promotion materials.
Therein lies the gap in a developing world view…..monies at the top, guidelines and plans that are completely exhaustive, and no distribution to a semi literate population who could sorely use the information. I put together packets of stuff and started to lay some ground work for the fine art of distribution to Aide Post Workers in villages that are remote. I work through the provincial health center staff and we oversee the health promotion on about six islands. Going will be slow but I think that I have a pretty good counterpart in health promotion and if we keep our eyes on our goals we can develop a working system.
In the meantime, I do supportive supervision visits to the village dispensary and aide post and do teaching audits (in Bislama) but it is working and I will get better. Fortunately, most folks can talk a little English or French so when conversation slows down, I am in pretty good shape.
In April, we will hold a training for 24 new aide post workers…it stretches over 10 days and covers a lot of information. It will be on another island and we will be working with other Peace Corps Community Health volunteers to run the training.
I am getting used to living in my ‘missionary’ house…it is way too big for one person and has been used as a hospital guest house as well. (This is the fourth place I have lived since October and hopefully will be the last place! When, and if, the hospital ever gets a doctor I will likely be moved again as this place is the doctors house but they have not had a doctor here for many years. That being said, and before you get all excited about my posh spread with the great view just off the harbor and under the tropical sun, let me add that the house had been unoccupied by humanoids for many years and was a mess when I moved in the day before Christmas! Lots of cleaning and washing later, I have removed a few layers with only a few more to go. It is supposed to have running water but the village has been out of water for awhile so I get water from the drinking tank which collects rain water from the roof. Most everything is broken but I found you can adapt as you need to….who needs door pulls on cuboards or doors anyway?? It is very sturdy and has withstood a few cyclones in its history of fifty years at Lolowai. My project this week is testing different methods of rat elimination so I have four different types of traps….doing a head count of dead rats is not in my job description but needs to be done as upset as these little critters are that someone has moved into their nest and all. Fortunately most are rather scrawny….just the idea of sharing space with them is gross and disgusting!!
Weather is HOT and HUMID and HORRIBLE! This is as expected, summer and all, but if there is no appreciable change when the seasons change I will be discouraged. We have a ceiling fan at work for three hours a day and it is like heaven to sit under the blow dryer! The hair at the nape of my neck has been wet for three months now but so far no mold or mildew…..some of the volunteers actually shaved their heads but I am not going that far. I continue to believe it has to cool down or I have to adjust…I do move slow though as lifting a spoon to my mouth is exertion enough to make me break out in a smelly sweat. Never go anywhere without a water bottle (or two) and an umbrella.
Go outside and throw a snowball for me!!
Doing well in the food department! I enjoy cooking and spend a lot of time trying to figure out something interesting to eat. Tonite I had eggs with toast and fried bananas. I usually use the gas stove to make small quantity as there is no storage for leftovers. Rice will last for a day or so and todays noon meal was a delicious mix of rice and peas and onions and peppers and tuna…I made the rice crispy so the meal even had some crunch! Neighbors bring me some garden foods and there is a market…I love using the peppers and lemons. Bananas are way too plentiful and frankly a bit boring. Green beans are hugely long and the cucumbers are as big and fat as a melon. I use a lot of olive oil and herbs in cooking. Healthy enough diet, I would guess. Since I live at the provincial center and am right on the harbor and only a few miles from the airport I have a number of guests as other peace corps volunteers stop here on there way to other villages or to the boat or plane…as I said there is plenty of room!
Sending this around as a group note, not cause I wouldn’t love to send a personal note to everyone but because I have such unpredictable access to wi-fi I feel like I have to maximize my minutes on the computer. Some days I am reminded on the work world in Jamaica when I was with Project HOPE in the 70’s…it can take all morning to get one phone call made or one e-mail to transmit.
I am glad for my assignment at the Provincial Center but also humbled by the fact that this is the Provincial Center and it is horribly run down and shabby. The hospital has 22 beds and a maternity ward and the money to keep anything is sporadic and probably filtered before it gets to where it should be fixing screens and doing simple stuff. My office is a table and a plastic chair and until I got this old computer I was back to work the old fashioned way…pen and paper. Those of you who know my penmanship will appreciate how happy a typed document from me will make a co-worker!
I am due to send lesson plans for some classes to the headmasters of local schools this week and am sure glad to type them!
Hoping this finds you all well and happy! I have told some that I hesitate to upgrade this to ‘adventure’ status but as time goes on I may adjust to the inconveniences and start to really appreciate the experience as an adventure. Not holding my breath, however!!
As they say in Bislama…Lukim yu!
Letter from Vanuatu Sunday, January 13, 2013 (received in Minnesota February 2, 2013):
Today I watched them build a road. Amazing – and sorely needed as the previous road to the provincial center and hospital was two ruts and barely passable. It also gives access to the cargo boats. Anyway the work was impressive and looks like they will finish before dusk. Not paved or anything like that but packed down and solid.
I, on the other hand, have been doing some Sunday cleaning as I am still trying to “one-up” the spiders and hornets that want to live in this concrete guest house with me.
No water today – never sure why there are days when the tap does not work but I collect water in buckets when I do have it available. The drinking water goes into a big tank at the side of the house and the rain has been consistent enough to keep it filled. There is a water leak though so I imagine there will be days when I walk to the provincial center where I work to get some water. Makes you appreciate good old tap water!!
Tonite I will have couscous with tomatoes and beans. Maybe some delicious spam. But maybe not. I use a lot of lemon and olive oil when cooking to give things flavor. Dessert will be a banana!
…hope the mail getting out of Vanuatu is actually happening. I was going to try and arrange some pen-pal experiences for kids but that may not happen here as the communication is pretty slow.
There is wifi at the provincial center so I plan to bring back a small laptop computer. I will go back to the United States in late April for a few weeks. I have been here four months now and although I did plan to not make any interim trips I really want to see [my grandbaby].
I have a list of things I want to come back with. Stuff not readily available here and poor quality.
My work will be at the bidding of my counterparts but I will most likely be doing a lot of health promotion and supervisory visits to the village aide posts. It’s hard to describe how basic the services are as we take so much for granted.I always feel bad when a Mom has walked four or five hours with her baby to get an immunization and the center has run out of vaccine. There is a huge disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality! I have rarely seen so many guidelines and so few of them implemented. The World Health Organization and other third world aid agencies clearly spend a lot of money developing very nice health promotion posters but all the directives in the world to wash hands and brush teeth have no impact when there is no water or ability to get a tooth brush.
I spent last week packing up assortments of brochures, flyers, posters on prevention for the different village and posts. The aid posts are run by volunteers who have some basic first aid training and some available medicines (most of which are expired>) I noticed when going through the storage area that many had been sitting there for years and of course were dusty! Now the next step – the logistics of distribution to about 50 aid posts and dispensaries on the three islands of Anbac, Maewo and Pentecost – the Penema province.
Enjoy 2013!
Friday, February 1, 2013

Received in Minnesota 3:58.30 p.m. February 3, 2013
Alo olgeta (hi everyone in Bislama)
I am shocked that the generator kicked on so will write a quick note – even delay the cooking of my delicious dinner of rice, peppers, onions, and tomatoes – as that can be done by candlelight but the use of my knock off laptop with no battery at all can not!
Apparently most of today was spent with administrative staff from the hospital going around to the fuel vendors to negotiate barters for the use of fuel for the generator. Must have worked…exchanges of fencing wire and lumber and concrete have now been diverted from repair and reconstruction to some energy to pump water and keep the lights on for a few hours so staff can care for the 18 or so inpatients. We also had a fundraising lunch today to help pay some of the bills owed for other things and close to 10,000 VATU were raised – that is about 1000 USD.
In March a large contingent of construction workers from New Zealand (sponsered by Rotary International) will be here to ‘fix up the place’ and those construction materials I just mentioned will have to be replaced….ah, but that is March’s problem!!
Talk about a shoestring (or a flip flop strap) operation – really eye opening!
Peace Corps will send me to another island next week to do a site evaluation. That island is Malakula and it is very close to the big island of Espiritu Santo or Santo. Santo was one of the first islands discovered by Captain Cook in this Melenesian area and it has a large city (of thousands) named Luganville. I may be relocated there after I return from my trip to San Diego in later March where I certainly plan to enjoy a couple of weeks with Rebecca and Mike and Zander Henry – who just this day, according to Rebecca – nudged back past his birth weight and is starting to figure out this breast feeding business. He is now about 18 days old – and has a lot more to learn in life for sure. I actually don’t care where I will go on return from the United States but would like to stop moving so I am going to be looking at this site a little more critically. Site review is not usually part of the volunteers job but this experience on Ambae has been a real eye opener for everyone so we are all looking at the next place with different focus. In any case, I am being moved from my current house to temporary housing as they need to fix this one up for the doctor who may or may not be coming in March. I would love to have available water at a new site but doubt I will find another site with sporadic wi-fi which has been nice here for the last week or so.
Ah well…seems that nothing is quite like home so best just buck up and deal with it!!
Good news is the rats are either gone from this house or regrouping for another raid…I managed to eliminate a good number with my wide variety of traps (affectionately known as my death row for rats) and there has been no sounds or evidence of the critters for the last four days.
Last night had some more very heavy rains so filled up all the buckets and even managed to wash clothing this morning. Cyclone season is another couple of months but we have only had a few of the ‘depressions’ which can herald the beginning of a big storm. I notice tonight though that the surf is very high so maybe the storm in Australia a few days ago is trying to work its way north. We have a cyclone tracking map but no radio reception so just have to watch the waves in the harbor.
I spent some time today polishing off my lesson plans for health promotion in Bislama. I am sure I am missing most of the correct phrasings but will rely heavily on demonstration and with subjects like handwashing and toothbrushing that is easily done…it will become more of a struggle when I get to the older grades and the topics are a little more complicated but by then I should be better at Bislama or into another challenge at another site.
We all have another ten days of training in Port Vila between the 18th of February and the 4th of March. Peace Corps allows us to bring our counterparts from the site and they join us in the first few days of training. Should be interesting. Many of the counterparts challenges have to do with the way this culture communicates – which is usually very differential and indirect. I have two counterparts at this site and both are nurses. One has been on annual leave for the last six weeks so I have not spent much time with her but the other has been motivated and easy to work with…actually his job as health promotion officer for this province is fairly new to him and I just realized this last couple of days that he has no computer skills. He will eventually get a laptop but I thought I could at least teach him the basics and even introduce him to the world of google.com. I helped him set up an email account today on gmail and he was like a little kid when he got his first e mail communication and we could open and save the attachment on a flash drive. I don’t know what he chose for a password but it must be good because the ‘approval’ rating came in as very strong on his first attempt. Ironically, there are desk top computers on all of the desks – think only three or four years old – but most of them do not work and there is no IT support so the folks that use computers are using the laptops that they can beg borrow or…….(dare I say the word)!
I was a guest house mama this week for another peace corps volunteer and a couple of travelers from Australia who ran out of money and needed a spot for a few days. It is easy to run out of money here because there are no ATM’s and the bank (and the shops and the transports) can only deal with VATU – they can not convert any foreign currency. And stuff can be very expensive. Actually this young couple were delightful though and it was a fun break for me…plus they had backpacked with a few gourmet essentials so I actually had real coffee for the first time in a long time! And we had lentils with coconut milk and dried tomatoes and some sort of dehydrated mushrooms. The other Peace Corps volunteer rounded out the meal with some sort of table wine that she found in the local co-op. Sort of a forgettable Australian table wine that cost her a fortune.
After their last few weeks in a tent on the beach in Maewo the Australian couple (a med student and an environmental scientist) were thrilled with being inside a structure and sleeping on mats on the floor…..I didn’t tell them about the recent rat issues!
Other than finishing off this letter and popping it on a flash drive so I can send it about on Monday (presuming the wi-fi is functional) my weekend activity will include reading yet another book and organizing for the next move. I crossed another month off the calendar yesterday so that is done. If it is not too hot I will walk up the long hill again…if for no other reason than it is good exercise and I love the fact it is downhill coming home again. When I walk the other direction the traffic is too scary for safety…there is not a lot of traffic but most of the trucks are in such poor repair that the expectation that they have brakes or can control steering is not reasonable so I just stay off the road and out of the way. I cleaned up all of the burnable trash last weekend and the volunteer that stayed with me with week for a few days cleaned up the yard so I am definitely leaving this place better than I found it!
Stay well and healthy and enjoy the rest of winter – especially those of you who have cold weather to complain about!!
Love Mary
TWO E-MAILS from Georgine Busch on Kailua-Kona Hawaii February 5,2013:
9:06.37 pm CST: FYI – an 8.0 earthquake near Vanuatu. We have had a 6.7 here and it feels really awful but is not dangerous if you are not inside a building. I hope Mary had an orientation to emergency procedures in the event of an earthquake. I have certainly had to learn what to do since I moved here. What is comforting is that the ground does not open up and swallow you like it shows in the movies in the Midwest. Dangers are building collapse and tsunami.
From: “HCCDA .” <16375833_1358925306@notify2.mir3.com>
Date: February 5, 2013 3:59:37 PM HST
To: georgineb
Subject: Message From Hawaii County Civil Defense issued at 2/5/13 3:59 PM
Reply-To: Intelligent Notification <16375833_1358925306@notify2.mir3.com>
This Alert message is from the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency.
Effective: Tuesday, February 05 2013 3:57:56 PM
Headline: HCCDA Message: Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reports an earthquake of 8.0 magnitude in Santa Cruz Islands. Unknown if Tsunami generated. Monitoring events.
Description: This is a Civil Defense Message This is an Earthquake information update for Tuesday February 5 at 4:00 p.m. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reports an earthquake of a magnitude of 8.0 in the Santa Cruz Island near Vanuatu in the South Pacific. It is unknown at this time if a Tsunami has been generated. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center personnel are analyzing data at this time to determine if there is a threat to Hawaii. More information will follow as it becomes available.
Instruction: unknown
Thank you, HCCDA .
From: “HCCDA .” <16376435_1358953829@notify2.mir3.com>
Date: February 5, 2013 4:56:18 PM HST
To: georgineb
Subject: Message From Hawaii County Civil Defense issued at 2/5/13 4:56 PM
Reply-To: Intelligent Notification <16376435_1358953829@notify2.mir3.com>
This Alert message is from the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency.
Effective: Tuesday, February 05 2013 4:55:14 PM
Headline: HCCDA Message: Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reports no tsunami threat to Hawaii
Description: This is a Civil Defense Message This is an Earthquake information update for Tuesday February 5 at 4:50 p.m. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reports an earthquake of a magnitude of 8.0 in the Santa Cruz Island near Vanuatu in the South Pacific. Based on all available data no pacific wide tsunami is expected. There is no tsunami threat to Hawaii.
Instruction: unknown
Thank you, HCCDA .
From Mary Ann Feb 6, at 6:22 p.m.
No Tsunami at Lolowai!
Hi ….we are about 600 miles from the big quake but not much big wave activity around here! Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers….uncertainty of weather seems to be an accepted way of life here but let me just tell you how the alert played out for me!
I actually live very close to the harbor – about 100 feet up the bluff so would have that buffer in any case of a big wave but also know the real possibilities of a tsunami so had rehearsed a few times what my actions would be. I got a few text messages saying Vanuatu was on an alert so just grabbed my backpack (all prepped with the essentials of evacuation-food/water, etc) and headed further up the hill with some other folks to wait it out. About two hours later got another text message saying it was all clear. We have no radio reception here but the text messages do come through – not always in real time.
Ironically, the harbor was eerie and calm all day yesterday, hardly a wave in sight. The only indication there had been something going on was that the water rose on the beach right to the edge and then receded.
So, all’s well that ends well. I am sure you got better news and pictures on CNN than I got being just in the middle of the action. My new house is actually closer to the provincial center and up a little higher and the houses are all build of concrete on this compound. Roofs could probably blow off but the house would stay standing in astrong wind…earthquakes would make a real mess.
I have always felt a little frustrated that there is such spotty communication – you are at a disadvantage when something is imminent – or even when there is a delay in the infrequent flights or boats though I will have to be pretty desperate to get on one of those cargo boats….never mind I would have to wade through a couple feet of water (in a skirt, no less) and get my sneakers totally wet for the duration or risk cutting my feet on the coral and then just hang out on a small and likely overcrowded boat as it churns its way to thenext stop. I am too old to be that foolhardy!!
Anyway, enjoy your sub zero and blizzard conditions whilst I melt away
in the unstable environs of the South Pacific!
Sent on from our sibling, Flo, who says: The attached transcription of Mary Ann’s letter from Ambae arrived at her friend’s in Rochester NY about February 3 and here [in MN] February 9. She thought I’d like her food info and I thought you might be interested as well! We’re very familiar with composting fresh food “waste” and think that our little garden plots are grateful for the offerings!
Friday January 11, 2013
Hi Bev and JD!
A note from sunny Island Ambae – the same island featured in Michener’s South Pacific (Bal. HA.). Anyway the sun and heat and humidity are wearing a bit thin – be glad when this “summer” is over! If the “winter” (April-October) months are just as untenable I will be soooo disappointed!
Anyway, thought you might be interested in a list of my island menus and some relative prices of foods that I can buy in the co-op. Co-op foods are unpredictable and sometimes spoiled when they do get there so you have to check them carefully. How mold gets in sealed jars of jam or packets of ramen noodles I’ll never know! I’m usually not veRy hungry but partly cause I work in an office area and it’s just too hot to eat! We have a fan and electricity in the office about three hours a day so I really like that. I live right next to the ocean (maybe about 300 yards and a road separate my home from the rocky cliff) so there is some breeze from the water and the constant slushing of the waves. I built a fire pit area last week and have an area for composting. Eating fresh foods is good but there is a lot of peeling and “waste”.
Breakfast – doughnut (sort of), grapefruit /coffee
Lunch – Beef/green peppers, rice
Dinner – *egg, toast, cabbage/onion, cookie
Course, sometimes I eat 2-3 cookies. Serving size is generous enough to fill me up and I have lentils and peas, as well as rice. It’s hot for “soup”- like meals but that is the best way to be sure everything is cooked properly. I use a lot of herbs cause most food is pretty bland and I’ve grown to really like fried bread! Using just a little olive oil and browning it on the fry pan it makes something crispy and so little of the food have “crunch” – Anyway food is not an issue, but these bugs and bug bites are! You know how I hate bug bites!
I have a two-burner gas stove and boil all drinking water.
Some prices in $$:
Can of tuna – 1.40
Tomato paste – 1.20/can
Ramen noodles – 1/.40
Pinto beans – 1.40
Peanut butter (4 oz) – 2.80
Jam (4 oz) – 3.20
Soup – .40
Bread, small – .20
Cabbage – .20
Garlic – 10/2.80
Spam (small) – 1.20
Bleach (1 pt) – 2.40
Super glue – 1.80/tube
Biscuits (crackers) – 2.40
Palm oil – 1.20/pt
Baby powder (sm) – 1.80
Grapefruit – .20/ea
Bananas – 15/1.00
Pineapple – 2.50 ea
Yams – 10/2.00
Mango – .20/ea
Lemons – 40 sm/2.00
Green peppers – 30 sm/1.00
Onions – 6 large/2.50
Potatoes – .30/ea
*Eggs – 50/ea
Canned corn – 2.50
Canned chicken – 3.20
Bug spray – 4.20/can
Cookies – sm sleeve/1.80
Olive oil – 4.20/pt
Spices – hard to find!
Razor (1 disposable) – 1.20
I cook a lot with lemons and peppers – there is no storage of food so you make and eat the same day. You can see that some prices are way out of line, but some aren’t! I make about $400 a month and spend about $30-40 a week on food and $50-60 a week on transportation costs and miscellaneous. Peace Corps gives another $100 a month for “hardship posts” and I qualify as I am so out of the way!
Anyway, enough about food. Bring me some coolness and snowcones!! I actually have a small refrigerator but of course without electricity it does not work! Also no RG&E bills!! No wonder my lifestyle is so cheap.
Anyway, on to the rest of your day. Send this on to Flo Hedeen (sister) in Park Rapids, MN, 703 First St. West. I think she would be interested!
Stay well and eat healthy! Enjoy them *eggs!
Take care, Mary
UPDATE via e-mail February 16, 2013
Another dreaded group note! On the plus side is that you can peruse and delete, on the minus side is that I am depriving the USPS postage revenue and would hate to think I am the reason Saturday delivery will cease in August 2013. To put it in perspective, mail comes to me on Island Ambae, Vanuatu, about every three weeks and that is after it has spent awhile in the central post office in Port Vila being sorted and examined and perhaps opened and enjoyed! So far I believe I have gotten everything that has been sent….birthday cards and notes for my 70th on November 10, 2012, did arrive in Lolowai, Ambae post office on February 6, 2013….you do the math!
And be nicer to your local mail delivery person!!
I am in Port Vila for a few weeks doing what is called PST – Phase 2. (Pre Service Training). During this training we learn to work with our counterparts – there are four days of training with our counterparts where we discuss differences in style and culture and communication. I have two counterparts on the island and one of them, a male nurse named Markson, is coming to the training. He is the health promotion officer and is relatively new to his position…in any case, Peace Corps makes some real efforts and spends some real money (thank you, fellow American taxpayers) to ensure that this extra effort is made and that we all make the most of our experiences here. We will also learn more about sanitation and basic water sources and grant writing.
Today is Sunday and I had planned to spend the day (and cough up ten dollars for the day use fee of the facility) going to a hoity toity resort called La Lagona. I had intended to take full advantage of the five fresh water swimming pools, the spa, the sandy beach on the lagoon, the kayaks, the comfortable lounge chairs, the exotic bar choices (drinks with umbrellas stuck in them), and the overpriced luncheon menu choices that are served to you after you have swum or floated to the underwater bar stools and are sitting under the bamboo shade trees HOWEVER a tropical ‘depression’ – AKA cyclone – appears to have settled in for the day so there is pouring rain and no signs of let up. So I am executing Plan B – write a letter, read a book, shop a little, and generally do next to nothing.
Maybe another movie in the motel this evening!? One of our volunteers has the ability to move a movie from an IPOD to a full screen on the wall with the use of some new techology from Brookstone and it is really a treat! Last night about ten of us watched the new Ben Affleck / George Clooney production of ARGO – a very well done story of the hostage release during the Iran Hostage Crisis in the late 70’s, early 80’s. Based on a true story and sprinkled with news releases of the time of the crisis – think Tom Brokaw with thick dark hair. It was interesting to note that I was the only one in the group who had actually ‘been alive’ during this time and my status was immediately elevated to “OMG-You were alive then!!’ History lives within me and makes me humble to realize how much history lives within me! Most PCV (Peace Corps Volunteers) in my group are barely in their twenties so have a lot of history yet before them.
I went to early mass this morning at the Cathedral de Sacre Cour and was treated to a mass that only lasted 90 minutes, some great singing in French and ceiling fans moving the pre-deluge humid air around. Church was quite full with SRO (Standing Room Only) and no one appeared to race out of there after communion. There was applause after the service?? and a mix of men and women in the pews. Think it was just an ordinary Sunday mass but my french isn’t good enough to know if I was part of some big festival or something. French missionary influence is particularly strong in Port Villa and there are a number of Francophones. On the island I go to an Anglican service which struggles to finish in 3 hours and where dogs are part of the congregation and men and women are seated on separate sides. I am on the women (and children side) and of course we are overfull and our benches are a little mre rickety than the mens side. There is a lot of singing and a lot of praying for most everyone and everything. (Think praying for bench repair for the women would make sense as last Sunday a new mom with small baby sat down on the end of one of the rickety benches and it immediately collapsed – no injuries, fair number of discreet snickers from the men side, and a little interruption as the 12 foot broken bench was carried to the side of the church.)
Then after the church services, everyone gathers under the mango trees (think thick leaves and lots of shade) and ponders the rest of the day.
Breakfast today was fried french bread (made toasty with a brushing of oil and onion) and egg and an orange. One of the counterparts from Erromango Island brought in a bag of oranges that were getting ready for market. Grass green on the outside but juicy and very good on the inside. I counted 48 seeds in the half orange that I ate so there would need to do a little hybriding to make these oranges appealing to the mass market in America or the orange juice producers anywhere. (Even Tropicana Extra Pulp with that many pits wouldn’t sell for 2.59 a quart…anywhere!)
On Tuesday of this week we are all invited to a reception for the new South Pacific US Ambassador, Walter E North. Believe he is ‘at home’ in Papua New Guinea and covers this country as there are very few embassies here (Australia might have one). Walking down from the motel to the Peace Corps office we walk by a rather ornate looking edifice housing a KIA car dealership but the brass plaque on the gate still says Korean Embassy so guess they were here at one time.
Ambassador North was a PCV in Ethiopia in the 70’s and he is a JD and MPH from Harvard. Should be a fun evening if I can find something to wear that fits into the dress code required – smart casual – as my cargo shorts and cotton t shirts and bulky sandals don’t! I had one dress but I left it on the island so I will quickly cruise the second hand shops on Monday morning to try and scarf up something suitable. I may just end up wearing my granny skirt and a black top. My fashion sense and suitable wardrobe for anything has pretty much melted or moulded away.
Rain seems to be letting up slightly so will head out to the well washed streets for a looksee. This is Sunday afternoon now and most of the shops will be closed but since there is always a stray tourist or two walking around, there will be some ‘China Shops’ open…usually a large and mostly dark variety store of ticky tack. It is necessary for me to wear my glasses at all times though as I need to read as much fine print as possible. I bought a small bottle of something the other day and I could read the word moisturizer so felt it was just what I needed for my dry skin….only after I had lavished the lotion on my face and arms and legs and put on my glasses did I realize I had just spread hair conditioner (with moisturizer) all over my self!! Ah well, sweated it off in short order.
Hoping you all have a good day and week and stay healthy – probably by avoiding processed foods as much as possible! When we teach good nutrition here we are asking folks to use the ‘aelan kakae’ island foods (fresh fruits and vegetables) and stay away from the ‘rubis kakae’ or white man foods that are available in the coops and markets. That being said, it becomes quickly obvious that eating processed foods to excess (which is what seems to happen in the city of Port Vila) also contributes to the mess and litter called packaging that ends up in the gutters and streets.
Another reason to enjoy the well washed streets after the heavy rains! The litter has floated down the hilly streets to the lagoon – ah well, pollution of the lagoon and destruction of the reef is fodder for a future of funded efforts to improve the welfare of a developing country.
Lukim yu! Mary
Posted by Mary Ann from San Diego, March 28, 2013:
Hi all…as promised, the day is bright and sunny in San Diego. With a high of about 70 degrees!
I will return to Vanuatu tomorrow – actually arrive there late on Sunday with the day and date change and a bit of a layover in New Zealand. Friends on the other end say the day is hot and humid – with a high of about 90 degrees and a humidity of about 90 %! Although It has been such a pleasure to cool down a bit but I expect I will readjust as I did before.
It has been easy to enjoy the Southern California movies (Zero Dark Thirty was interesting and kind of graphic) and malls (Target and Best Buy will miss me) and even driving the freeways – except in rush hour gridlock times!
The major reason for my trip – a new grandbaby – was all I expected and Mike and Rebecca and Zander continue to grow as a great family! Zander weighed in at about 10#8oz at the pediatrician visit last week and he is gaining a two month old personality. So glad they could host me for awhile…it has been a wonderful visit.
Sadly, the family dog, Curbey, is reaching the end of his long life as Zander begins his – Curbey has been part of the portrait for almost all of his 16 dog years, making him over a hundred peple years. Wishing him ‘dog peace’ as he moves on!
I will return to another island, Malakula, so will again begin the process of learning my village and my work assignment. Malakula is a larger island – and not an active volcano – but the population is less than twenty thousand and that will be spread out over many small villages that are hard to access. I don’t know much about their island culture yet (seems as though each island in Vanuatu is a bit unique) but understand there are a lot of local ceremonies-dancing in grass skirts or mats for the men. Nambas and Kava. My best resource on this side is Google and watching the You Tube videos. Electricity will be sparse, water may be scarce, internet access may be very limited. I will know more in a few days but if you don’t hear from me for ‘months’ it is because I can’t get too many messages out. I am back to my diet of island food which means no leftovers or chocolate and lots of kumala and taro and whatever vegetable and fruit is in season.
My work assignment will have something to do with community health care for sure and I am likely to be re-assigned to work with the Provincial Center…usually that means health promotion activities as I was starting to do at the Penema province. I will do classes and help committees write grants. This island is near Espiratu Santo which is one of the first islands found by Captain Cook….back in the discovery days of this South Pacific country.
Wishing you all well through this spring holiday season and more interesting tidbits as time goes on for me in the Peace Corps in Vauatu! One of my committments to the Peace Corps when I took the ‘oath’ was to promote understanding of this country and I will continue to do my best to give you some insights you may not have had from your previous experiences. Never a dull moment !
UPDATE from Mary Ann in Vanuatu April 3, 2013:
Hi all…I am headed up to Island Malekula tomorrow morning. There are some interesting snippets on Google!! Should be a good place although there is very limited electricity again (maybe one hour a day) so I will use the solar generated lamps that I just bought and I bought a bunch of fat candles. The house I have is looking pretty good in the pictures. A nice thing for me is that there is a bathroom and a shower INSIDE the house…and the island apparently has plenty of water – it rains regularly – so that will be a switch from Ambae where it was so hot and dry. Along with rain comes bigger bugs so I want to make sure that the screens are up and intact. I usually have to do a lot of screen repair to keep the mosquitoes out but will probably sleep under the net anyway…it is just a lot safer.
BTW, shower means there is a hose connected to the faucet so when you turn on the hose it will be a fat stream (if there is water pressure) or a skinny steam (if there is limited water pressure) or no stream ( if the mud has clogged up the pipes!) And it will all be cold! But, I have some good smelling soap and an expensive french ‘apres le bain creme pour le corps’. At least I think it is a body cream but I couldn’t really understand most of the french on the label.
They speak very little Bislama where I am going. It is Francophone with Bislams a distant third or fourth after the french, the local language and english. By default, I should learn some more french. The school I will teach at is a french mission school and the church is a catholic church…although there is an assortment of possibility as the area was heavily missionized so the Assemby of God, the Seventh Day Adventist, The Anglican, the Church of Love???, The Episcopal are some of the others that are there. I have my little “I am glad to be in this community” speech all memorized in French so that will get me through the first service…
It is a very poor community (no surprises there) but it has about 2000 villagers and it has market day three times a week. I should be able to get cell phone reception in my house and there is radio reception! I will hand carry my large bottle of olive oil and my lentils and dried mushrooms and tomatoes so I have some gourmet variety in my life!!
I will also be working at the “Mini Hospital”…not sure yet what that means but I do know there is no doctor and that it is cleaner than the one at the Provincial Center at Lolowai. I will work with Ellen, a health care worker whose focus these days is womens health.
I bought a sewing machine today..a SINGER hand crank and I really plan to use it…will start with making curtains for the twelve windows! I bought 40 yards of an ugly and busy blue island print material – there are so many patterns of materials here…folks in china must all stay up late a night just trying to figure out a newer and a more outlandish Island Print! If you are lucky I will make each of you a island shirt! Then we can have an ugly shirt contest!!
More likely is that I will have a sewing circle with some of the village ladies. Expect to teach some basic sewing.
Anyway, I must get to the Willco hardware store to buy a hammer and some screw hooks for the concrete walls! More as time goes on but, as I said, my communication is going to be very limited although I can get text messages at the digicell and the TVL numbers.
Wishing you all a good spring!
Mary A Maher
Peace Corps Vanuatu – Group 25
PMB 9097
Port Vila, Vanuatu
South Pacific
Digicell 011-678-598-5335
TVL 011-678-779-3517
written Monday April 15, 2013, received in Minnesota Monday, May 6, 2013. Mary also left a brief phone message on my birthday. Reception was okay. It was the following day in Vanuatu….
Mary: Just a short note from my new island assignment. I am on Malecula and it is a different world over here. Still very hot and humid and at least the sleeping weather is better and nights are a little cooler. I do not have any aectricity [sic – electricity?] and certainly no internet and I should be back in Port Vila in a few months. The health center that I am assigned to is very busy but there is still a lot of busy that happens because of basic problems with sanitation and hygiene. I teach hand washing and tooth brushing and eating good food to the primary students and teach no smoking and adolescent body changes and sexually transmitted disease to the secondary or high school students. They also call the secondary student college students.
I have a nice concrete house. It is very solid! I can hear the ocean from my house and also see the volcanoes erupt on Anbryan Island. Also nice is that the health center is fenced so there are no pigs or cows that get too close (and thus no cow pies in the front yard!) They have a lot of pigs and cows here as well as chickens and dogs. I don’t pet the dogs as they all have so many fleas but I have started to befriend (and feed) a couple of them. They sleep outside my house and make a lot of noise sometimes.
People here are very friendly. They do have a lot of cultural rituals but are also more familiar with people who are just visiting. Previous Peace Corps Volunteers built a “Ecotourism” Center and there is a good reef. I do not think I will snorkel though because there are a lot of sharks in the water. (Hope you guys can read my writing!) [NOTE: not easy this time!!!!]
I do have a computer – just the tablet – but can’t print anything so you will have a few handwritten notes till I can get back to the computer world.
Cathy – a favor! Could you check out a few good will shops and find me a couple of sleeveless cotton shirts with collars. Just send them by mail but no insurance or priority. If you find anything I would be grateful! I am no melting down here!!
I understand why [Uncle] Vince wants to pick everything [from his garden] even though he can’t use all the food! I am constantly trying to give away extra things like bananas or pineapples or coconuts – garden food is good but it will not keep long! this weeks project is to resurrect some old lanterns and make them candle holders! I’d love to figure out how to keep matches dry as well. Locals have the same problem but they just go to the neighbors and bring home a lighted bunch on reeds to start their fires! I talked with [daughter] Rebecca this morning and [Grandson]baby Z is 3 months and 12# – right on target!
From Mary Ann, May 19, 2013:
Sunday May 19, 2013
Yeah….I just eat them!
After months of trying to rid foodstuff and tables and counters and floors of the myriad of ants I hve decided to just do the best I can and fry up the rest of the innocent critters with the rice or the kumala or the soups and eat them. Odorless, tasteless, colorless, and harmless.
Two months now on Malekula and it is such a pleasant change from the previous assignment on Ambae. If you want to locate me, use Google Earth and look on the Southeast corner of the island. I am close to the opening of Sandwich Bay in the village of Lamap. There is a health center there and my house is located right next to a couple of larger buildings. It is sturdy and simple – I appreciate the indoor toilet and the shower that is pathetic by any standards but also light years ahead of walking outside and into a makeshift ‘smolhouse’ with a bucket of water.
Today, Pentecost Sunday, I went to church and listened to enthusiastic readings and sermon in a mix of French, English, Bislama, and local language. Usually understand enough to know that the message is the same as I have heard for years in different Catholic Churches. The singing and the offertory procession at this mission church are exceptional – the singing because it is loud and a capella and really good and the offertory procession because 12 to 14 parishioners bring up an assortment of fruits and vegetables and sometimes live poultry (destined for a dinner later) as well as the baskets of collected monies. It strikes me as amazing that in this country where the average income is minimal (perhaps 50 dollars a month), the donations are usually 100 VATU coins which is the proverbial one dollar that is thrown in the baskets at churches I have attended in much more affluent countries.
After church I joined my counterparts family for dinner – had yam and beef and grapefruit and banana pie….meat and yam in a huge bowl and we used ‘vanuatu plates’ or banana leaves. Cuts way down on the dishwashing time. Ellen is the youngest of 11 children and she is in her mid 30’s. Mom, Annette, is my age but no one holds that fact against me. All very friendly. All married and live in the same compound area in separate custom houses. After dinner it is traditional to ‘spel’ or rest for an hour or so – and then we walked up to the bush and had a swim near a small waterfall. Swim is sort of an oxymoron here cause the water is inches deep but it was cold and fresh. I could have stayed there a lot longer as it was such a nice treat.
Although I live minutes from the ocean and there is a beach I do not enjoy salt water especially when it is so warm and in these waters there are plenty of sharks.
Mostly, work is receptionist type work at the health center. I triage the patients and take vital signs and after their visits I give them some medicines that are prescribed by the nurse practitioners. We have a very limited selection of medications and there is a big overuse of the few antibiotics that are available.
I am not allowed to do anything like diagnose or treat, can’t even do dressing changes. That is a Peace Corps rule and although I suppose it is the result of past issues I find the restrictions very hard and have come to the conclusion that one should not retire into a job that one worked in for fifty years. You just see too many things that are different and problematic. I do some teaching at the well baby clinic and I very much enjoy that. My language skills in the local language are pretty basic…I even get good morning and thank you mixed up! Fortunately I can use my basic Bislama and even more basic French to get by….and lots of stick men on the pictures that supplement the lectures!
Market days are fun…a small market, to be sure, but you can get local foods very inexpensively. I usually spend about 5 dollars and get more than enough for a week. I usually share stuff as there is no way I could eat the 40 bananas that cost me 50 cents or the14 or so yams (biiiiiiiggggg yams) that I have to buy. I like eggs and one ‘mama’ brings in a few every week. The other day someone asked me if I would o like some narafala and I didn’t know what they were but I bought a dollars worth. That was one big hollowed out bamboo pole stuffed at the top with some green sea weed. I took it back to work and sure enough it was full of cooked shrimp or narafala! Every one enjoyed a couple of shrimp.
From Mary Ann, May 25, 2013
Note from Mary in Vanuatu – she wrote it on May 25, it was posted on June 5, 2013, and I received it June 23rd, 2013. I have translated to a reasonable standard of accuracy – any errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, usage and split infinitives are mine.
(Letter follows)
Hi Frank,
Expect greetings on Big 65th for JB were proferred! I sent a note about a month ago which may mean he has also received it.
I definitely miss having access to a computer! A big adjustment. Although Lamap is nice it is missing a few amenities – like electricity and wifi. I never did get a solar panel installed as the guy who was going to put it up – Rija (Richie) – dropped dead of a heart attack. 32 years old! Anyway I have a couple of small chargers and use them for the lights and the kindle and the (mobile?). And I have 28 books left on my Kindle so life is basically good!
I live right next to the health center and it is a busy place. Very basic and pretty sloppy by most standards but from what I have seen in Vanuatu, we do pretty goood. I struggle a little with communications as it is a wierd combo language of French, local, Bislama and English. Most people talk very very fast but when they see my looks of desperation they can slow down! I prefer to have them use French, when I try to do classes my counterpart and I use a lot of pictures! Mostly we are just busy processing numerous outpatients through the clinic. There is some trauma (lots of bush knive accidents) and lots of babies popping out. I even caught one the other day. Slippery little boy!
Sounds like all is going well with Baby Zander and parents. Mike finally made the decision to put Curbey down and that was good. Happened last of March so they are now down to one dog and one child. I set up an herb garden for them before I left and with any luck the generic green thumb (at least on Rebecca’s side) should grow something. Last I heard the cilantro and parsley were in great shape, being cropped and used regularly!
Rain all day today. That’s unusual. Thunder and lightning as well but I may also be hearing a volcano which is not far away and spouts regularly.
I walk 2-3 miles early every morning as it gets way too hot to fast for later day walking. Still losing weight and feeling flabby but I have rigged up my own weight room with parts from an old automobile. Actually the weight loss is good. Blood pressure is normal for the first time in years so I quit taking the blood pressure pills. Still have some knee swelling but its down to about an inch difference and if I do good stretches manage without a lot pain. I’m glad I don’t have to hike up many of these hills though- except for no electricity and limited water this is a perfect site for the geriatric Peace Corps volunteer.
Jury still out – at least in my mind – whether or not community health education can do any good at all. Some countries probably shouldn’t be independent and from the looks of this one the last twenty years or so have fueled amazing corruption. Australia and New Zealand send a lot of aid and aid workers but they generally just come in in teams, do some projects, leave some goodies, and then go back home. Country has gotten used to the handouts and aren’t very motivated to pull things out of the rut. Average income here is probably less than $50 a month. The only exportable products are copra and kava and most of the locals get very little for their efforts in making these products marketable. This area is very good for growing things so food costs are way down if you cook local. I don’t eat much else and I have plenty – most of it goes into a wide variety of soups that I am perfecting. I do a mean yam and manioc and pepper and onion soup. I have a number of dried spices from my last trip to Vila so just dump in a little of this and that – I am getting a bit tired of bananas.
Yesterday I had sweet bananas, fried bananas, and mashed bananas. You have to buy them by the large bunch at the market so I ended up with about 40 bananas for 50 cents. Gave some away but will undoubtedly also have to waste some.
Today I am soaking some dried peas and may make a soup tomorrow of peas and corn and whatever else needs to be cut up before it spoils.
No cheese or dairy except for powdered milk which I don’t use much.
Enough on food – Suffice it to say I would love a good BBQ sandwich about now!
Mr. Malcolm will have recovered enough from his ruptured achilles tendon injury to make the trip down here in early September. Will be a bit of a culture shock for him but he assures me he is ready – hmmmmm!
He used to work in Melbourne and made the USA/Australia trip a couple of times a year. Flying (long) distances doesn’t seem to bother him.
Greetings to Nancy and sibs – I try to write barely legible letters regularly but have no idea if anything gets through. I know this one won’t leave Lamap until June 5 so it may not reach SLC for another 4 weeks! Oh well.
Have a great spring/summer!
E-Letter from Mary Ann July 6, 2013. This was sent to her friend list. She is rarely in a place with e-mail. But her e-address, if you wish is maem1942ATgmailDOTcom:
Viewing Vanuatu or More on Malakula-July 2013!
Hi all…seems like forever that I have been away from the internet and a word processed letter! So, those of you who have received snail mail letters and have had to struggle with my poor penmanship – enjoy this note!
I knew Island Malekula would have no internet (and incidently no electricity and not much water) but I did not realize it would also have no roads that were not washed out, sharks in the water just off the beach, grapefruits and lemons and oranges that fall off the trees behind my house, cow and cow pies everywhere, pigs and pig poop everywhere, a nicely painted but very basic health center, a huge catholic mission church (200-400 walk to services every Sunday), great a capella music, and francophone! I enjoy the community and since we are in the middle of winter, Vanuatu style, I am also more tolerant of the weather. It has dropped to the balmy 80’s with 70% humidity but that is a large step in the right direction.
Picture clothing that steams when you hang it on the line or clothing that is damp when you attempt to put it on!! I threw away clothing the other day that was sprinkled with mildew…..double yuk!
I am in Vila on Island Efate this week as the medical folk try to sort out the reason that my right leg (yeah, that’s the one that has suffered multiple indignities) is swollen..consensus is that it is a bit of a phlebitis in the lower leg so I am chewing a little aspirin every day and wearing those god awful black elastic stocking with sneakers that lace up. Have had to retire my flip flops and explain to everyone interested (and lots of people are) why I am running around with long black stockings in 80 degree weather. Fortunately I have a few of those ‘boho chic’ floaty skirts that hide a multitude of definition so my black legs and white body do not excite constant conversation. If the leg doesn’t improve soon I will need to move to the next level of care-or the next assignment!
However, I am not one to complain of being in a motel that has electricity and running water! I also spent a few hours today at one of the tourist hotels and had iced coffee and floated in the pool and pretended I was one of the many tourists who are on holiday in Vanuatu. My unexpected trip to Vila robbed me of the opportunity to sail to the Maskelyn Islands this weekend on a catamaran with a team of dentists and doctors who had been at my site in Malekula during the last two weeks…it was actually the doctor from New Zealand who thought I should get my leg checked out so here I am. Time later for the shells and turtles and snorkeling that make the Maskelyns a good tourist destination.
Most of the time the health center that I work at – and live next to – is staffed with two aged nurse practitioners (that means they are my age) and one nurse aid. It is a busy clinic and we see 20-40 patients a day. The going rate is 100 Vatu for adults (that is $1.00) and 50 Vatu for children. But, even in the third world folks know how to game the system and not pay the cliinic fee – and we see them anyway! Common tricks are, ‘”whoops, I forgot my money”..in bislama that is a sad look and a “no gat”, or paying for one pikinini (child) and slipping in the other three and the mama who brought the child who paid, or handing us a big note that we don’t have the change for, or being an exception cause they are related to someone important in the village, or walking in the back door and just slipping into the consult room.
I have assumed the role of helping with triage so I am there from 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM. We do have a two hour break at noon time and I will go home, remove my dripping shirt and put on a t shirt while I ‘spel’ or rest a bit. It is always a challenge to find the nurse practitioners as they tend to sneak out the back door to do whatever – go to the market, ‘storyon’ with the locals, just disappear. I have learned to just ignore them and pile up the charts of the waiting patients and tell them to ‘wait smol’ – no one seems to mind so why should I? My working triage is fun for me as I can practice my languages and take blood pressures and temperatures and stuff. We spent a couple of weeks trying to organize the medical records of the 2348 patients who use the clinic from the surrounding 28 villages and I learned very quickly that there can be two or three spellings for the same person. Most persons don’t have a good idea of how old they are and forget the detail of birth dates…a lot of ‘me no save’ and odd looks like why ask something so irrelevant!?
We see a lot of skin conditions – sanitation IS an issue as you might have gathered from an earlier paragraph – and malaria and tuberculosis and kids who cough or have diarrhea. Mostly folks seem to be pretty sturdy – they just live till they die! Not a lot of diabetes and high blood pressure and obesity on Malekula. A lot of bush knife injuries though and that is not surprising as folks as young as two years old are slinging those machetes around. No cars, a few unroadworthy trucks, and no bicycles so MVA not an issue. Have had a number of fish poisonings though as some of the reef fish are contaminated.
I eat a lot of peanuts and even though have to walk a few miles to get eggs it is worth the effort. People often give me some of the food that they have prepared and I have learned how to use a lot of the local foods to make soups. I have lost weight, think it has melted off me, but the good news there is that the long standing high blood pressure that I have taken medication for is not an issue at this point. Amazing what 20 pounds and no sugar or salt or fat can do! I also have only one very small mirror so I was a little surprised when I came into Vila and took a look in a real mirror….you all know what old people with crappy skin tones look like, lots of wrinkly flab. Well, me gat wrinkly flab!
One of my friends is an australian lady who is a contract pharmacist for the ministry of health and she was up last week and helped us to organize the pharmacy. We had a lot of stashes of expired drugs as there is always a problem with replenishment but hopefully the system will work more in our favor now. I think one of the major reasons we run out of so much stuff is that it is never ordered on time….it takes two to four months to get supplies, even on the island when the supplies come from central stores in Port Vila. There are only two pharmacists in Vanuatu and both of them are from somewhere else. They just recently trained four pharmacists in Fiji and since they are ni-van (Vanuatu) they are expected to take over for the contract pharmacists. A lot of barely trained technicians call themselves pharmacists and there is a very liberal use of antibiotics by the health care workers. Sort of scary.
Money is always as issue….new nurses can not be hired because there is no money (or at least none available for salaries) and old nurses can not retire because there is no money for pensions. Most of the provinces do not have a doctor at all – even the large hospital in Port Vila only has medical interns (who have trained elsewhere) at this point. There are foreign doctors who see patients privately and apparently make pretty good money. When I had a scan to see if I had a phlebitis it was a french doctor in a nice office with good hewlett packard untrasound technology…now, in saying that, the scan needs to be sent to Australia for interpretation as there are no radiology services in this country. His fee (which the peace corps pays for) was 22000 Vatu or 220 dollars. Same lack with blood tests like the HBAIC for diabetes or the tests for clotting factors in the blood – they need to be sent to Brisbane Australia. Lab testing here is a dip stick although they do train microscopists to look for malaria and tuberculosis germs.
I have used my leatherman regularly to do small fixes and repairs and have enjoyed to notoriety of being a genius cause I can replace a door knob and a screen! I brought a hand crank Singer sewing machine to the island with me and a couple of bolts of ugly island print so I have also made curtains and more pillow covers than I can count. The machine is ‘made in china’ pathetic…frequently the tension knobs pop off and of course threading a needle at age 70 is a major event.
My counterpart and I spent a whole day at the school a few weeks ago demonstrating handwashing and foot scrubbing…our most attentive audiences were the 5 and 6 year olds – they were just mesmerized. Course we got to them just after nap time so they were in a learning frame of mind.
Hope all are well and enjoying the rest of summer – I am still waiting for the ‘drop’ in temperature of July and August! Would love to not have to hang out my dripping shirt every day at lunch time!
From Brisbane, Australia July 13, 2013 Even Peace Corps Volunteers sometimes have ailments….
Hi…have spent the last six days in Brisbane doing some outpatient testing. Had a nasty pain in my right calf and since there are no diagnostics available in Vanuatu, Peace Corps sent me to Brisbane and the hospital here did some scans and blood tests and ultrasound using very up to date (not rusted) technology. Pain and swelling were due to a ruptured bakers cyst behind my right knee….no DVT although that was a concern initially. The pain and swelling is getting better and I am just waiting for a couple more consults before I get the clearance from Peace Corps to either go back to life as I knew it on Malekula or move on to a more normal life.
In the meantime I am enjoying the weather, the 24 hour electricity, the ice cubes, the lettuce, the shopping mall, the smooth sidewalks, the efficient trains, the friendly people, and the TV! It has taken my at least three days of painful viewing of cricket to begin to understand that game and though it is supposed to be a game of intelligence and skill and strategy I think it is boring. However, the tour de france is a good balance, I at least understand bike riding. Brisbane has some terrific bike paths along the river but I am not ready to rent a city cycle and have a go at it!
Maybe in a future life!
Hope all are well and rest assured that next years G20 will be in a thoroughly modern city in a country that has some of our challenges with too many needs and not enough resources to satisfy the masses.
More from Brisbane, July 16 2013
Soooo good! They use whole milk and chocolte powder here. Decadent and frenchy. Design of the top and real cream.(not fake cool whip Flo) And probably calorific!!
I am still in Brisbane but do not mind as the weather is lovely. Will take in an opera this weekend.
Leg pain is resolving with tylenol a couple times a day. The swelling is gone but leg is stiff so I want to get a few physcal therapy appointments in while I have the chance. It is not likely I will have a recurrance of the ruptured BakersCyst behind my knee but it certainly left its imprint. Walking is good…slow but no problems there!
PeaceCorps has requesed and is paying for a few more tests before I go back to Vanuatu.
Dad Bernard lived to a ripe old age and I have done well for years with a slow and irregular heart beat but I am being run through the gamut of cardiac tests”just to make sure’I don’t croak on peace corps time! Nothing new so far – assuming it will stay that way. I have some more appoinments next week but in between I can just be a tourist person staying in a nice lodge with a kitchenette and electricity and water.that comes out of the faucet clean. I am next to a big park and watched a croquet match (competitive croquet…..who would have thought) this morning and am sick of the confusion of cricket! At least American football is predictably stupid. However, a flat screen TV and a choice of English language stations is a real plus. Nice hospital here-Wesley is about 800 inpatients and certainly looks well run. Retired nurses see lots between the cracks and I have no concerns so far. They have so many “international” patients that they even have a coordinator just for them.- no kidding,- health care options in the south pacific are very limited so expats on most of the island countries just come to Australia for care.- it is a bit of a process to get a medical visa (no one wants to be stuck with a sickie) but once you have the visa – one line of which is an attestation that your care will not deprive a real Aussie of care – things move smoothly.
(I have misplaced my glasses so need to retrace steps-probably left them at the post office. Oh well No biggie…they are just those magnifiers but they sure do make reading a lot easier and would allow me to be able to correct all the typos I am making… So, it is not that I cannot spell, I just can not see what I am spelling.
I enjoy cooking my own food and love the garden vegetable. I bought some celery yesterday and it was the best I have ever had. Crisp, flavorful, delicious and huge. A great snack. Some stuff is really cheap – other stuff not so-I do eat bananas but have not had a cocsnut tin a week- The Australian almonds are also really good.
I am enjoying watching kids be age appropriate and parents everywhere have the same reactions to two year old tantrums and five year old drama queen behaviors. Looks like grandbabies Zander, Pierce, and Laurel is growing so fast! I can’t seem to access facebook on this communal computer but pictures are there and I will get to them as soon as I can convince Zuckerman, et al, that I am legitimate and not hacking in from Brisbane. I love the pictures I do get. I hope to get my vodaphone to work for making calls so I can call both Sean and RL this weekend. Birthdays are Monday.- July 22nd.
Sean 40 and Rebecca 36.- time marches on! Not so long ago that tantrum and drama queen behavior were part of the daily routine.in their lives – sorry guys, what goes around, comes around and soon you will be looking at the same wonderful adults that I see!!
Thanks again to Cathy B for supplementing my wardrobe with newly used tops that I finallyreceived when I was in Port Vila just before coming to Brisbane. My favorite is the lime green and I have worn them all to dress up my meager travel wardrobe of grey nylon pants and beige cargo shorts with the many pockets that clearly aren’t deep enough for the glasses or I would not hve lost them!
So back to retracing the morning walk and on with the rest of the day.Enjoy the rest of your Tuesday!
Back in Vanuatu, more-or-less August 2, 2013:
Actually it is now Thursday night for most of you so you will see this on Friday…when I am into Saturday! I came back from Brisbane on Wednesday evening and have just been waiting around…will return to Island Malekula and Lamap on Monday. There are only planes twice a week so that is the best I can do….and oh darn!!!….a few more days of electricity, internet, and running clean water and no bug bites. That will likely change quickly as I have not been in my house for a couple of weeks and I am sure the native critters and criterettes have taken up residence again.
Be good to get settled in again and I am glad to have the medical stuff pretty well taken care of. The leg pain from the ruptured bakers cyst is actually some better now and the tests they did for the irregular heart beat all came back good so I will likely live until I die. I find the weather, in this most winter of months, is actually becoming liveable so I also will enjoy that for the next few weeks. I think we return to a quick spring and a long summer by the end of September.
My projects on return will be to continue trying to build up the maternal child health education program…I would really like to get the clinic really cleaned up as well. It sadly needs a coat of paint and general sprucing up but the nurse practitioner who works the clinic thinks it is just fine.
Boy, not me….I wear a mask when I am cleaning out the paper storage closets. Lord knows what kind of fungi are growing. I remember my friend Jinny Spencer in Rochester New York getting a rotten pneumonia from a hoarders attic clean up so better be safe than sorry. I have reduced three crammed closets to one partially filled closet so am getting down to the end of my part of the project. Would like to believe that someone else will take it up but that may take a little more cajoling on my part.
Rebecca / Mike and Sean / Simone report healthy and happy grandkids and I have recent pictures of the gerber moments. Zander is a real southern california dude chowing down on mashed avacado as first food favorite and Laurel is looking pretty impressive on her bike. Pierce apparently does not need a bike…he just motors into whatever is in the way. Summer ending for all school age pikinini (bislama for children) in america and back to school they go…or at least Laurel.
I am just starting a fat book..Daniel Silva – The Rembrandt Affair. A look at the world of valuable art heists and the irony of some art investors who are so afraid of a heist they lock up their paintings in a bank vault. How does one enjoy art when they can not see it? Something out of synch here. My collection is comfortable but has zero providence. Unless you count the time in a second hand shop.
Next four months for me….plans are always tentative in paradise….include a visit from Malcolm in September. He will go to Malekula for one week and I have been busy prepping him on the differences he can expect (but I still hope he doen’t go postal after a few days of life as I know it), I have a workshop in October on Womens Health on the very small island of Noona off Efate, there will be an island thanksgiving in November and then a Christmas trip to Hawaii. After I come back in January I will continue whatever project or, if the weather is as formidable this year as last, I may just wrap up my service. Unfortunately, I will need a knee replacement in the next couple of years and the orthopedic doc in Australia recommended I spend a lot more time and energy trying to build up a lazy quadricep muscle before I had surgery or I will likely have a gimp for the duration. Exercise options are very limited here – a least the kind that I like, walking, biking, swimming, golf! Being old, deconditioning happens faster and recovery happens slower so health is still #1 priority.
But in the meantime, will continue work as I know it. I am interested in doing something with tuberculosis education. It is a very contagious disease and is simply not as contained here as it should be. Malaria is everywhere but we don’t have the nasty cerebral malaria so that disease is under control and relatively easily treated. I still do not want to have it but it would be preferable to some of the other tropical stuff that I am avoiding.
Hoping you all have a good August and when I get back to site I will retrieve a few of the flash drives where I wrote experience notes and send them out later in August when I come back for training.
Love M
from Mary Ann, August 26, 2013: Hi everyone…this week is a break between the mid service training and the return to Island Malekula so it is a chance for a few more soapy showers and TV reruns out of Australia-chanced onto the channel for the LPGA at Locust Hill Golf Course in Rochester New York and was thinking ,what a difference a year makes….last year I rode my bike over to the golf course and watched the action in person. There are a couple of golf courses here and I may play at least a part of a round before I leave town. Weather is good this week…high 70’s and much less humidity.. I have been lucky this trip in to Vila as I am staying with a friend, an Australian pharmacist so there is a spa bathtub and patio overlooking the bay. I can see why some folks love to live here-it can be a real nice tropical paradise.
She stayed with me on Malekula early in July and this week was payback but I certainly got a better deal. She got the basic muddy shower and tuna fish with rice! Many of the ex-pat community members are very nicely housed here, for sure.
A treat for me last week was an invite to sit in on a Ministry of Health Meeting with local important people and representatives of a New Zealand doctor group, the ButterflyTrust, and the island expert on non communicable diseases from the World Health Organization. It was all about a problem skin disease that has resurfaced on our island called YAWS.
YAWS is yucky and a close cousin to poor sanitation and hygiene so I have been reenergized to teach the importance of handwashing with soap.
Not so simple..we have water but it can be pretty muddy and the use of soap is very limited. First cause it costs 100 VATU (dollar a bar) on our island – a real rip considering it is 12 VATU a bar in the more populated areas, and it is tough to keep it available as it is a treat for the rats and the dogs and the ants to eat and people snitch it all the time.
And of course soap makes the dissolving of the nasty germs that are in everything so much more effective so we try to teach and demonstrate using soap.
So wash !
This morning I treated myself to a private French lesson with Albane at Alliance Francais. She is fresh off the boat from Paris and was young but very encouraging except I could not understand too much of what she was saying until she slowed right down. Once again, I was lost at reflexive verb conjugation. Glad English is my primary language because I understand it is even harder to learn than French.
I do notice that I can think in another language much more easily now so I do not have the struggle of hearing something and then trying to remember what it should sound like in the other language..I can just reply. Mixing words from all sorts of pidgin words seems to be my specialty these days.
This afternoon I have to head up to the local hospital – the only hospital – and go through some items in the medical stores department. It should be easy enough for them to send things to site but somehow there is a two to four month delay in receiving materials so when I am in town I will just go up and try to get stuff. We tend to run out of things quite often and I am never sure whether it is because we have not ordered enough or they have not sent enough. The next step in this mini inventory management process is to attempt to check materials received with materials ordered so that the invoice can be reconciled. Unfortunately the materials ordered record is usually lost and the materials received record hardly ever reflects what remains in the box(es) when they are opened.
Hmmmmmm…another challenge.
After soap!
Since lunch today is starting and ending at stale Fritos that someone received in a care package I must head over to the store and get something good to eat or I will just continue to munch the stale Fritos.
Wishing you all well and have a good week.
From Mary Ann, Sep 7, 2013:
Hi all…as some of you know I am in Port Vila for a few weeks..had
some MST (Mid Service Training) training days and then a treat in
having a few days at the Holiday Inn Resort here. Glad for some clean
water as our water on Malekula has turned to dripping mud over the
last few weeks before I left so doing a bucket bath or attempting to
wash clothes is a bit frustrating. They were working on trying to fix
the pipes but my thinking is that they will break something they can’t
fix and I will be in to washing my body and my clothing in the salt
water. Drinking water is still OK but limited and I hope washing
water is better when I am get back on Thursday of this week.
Mid service we are supposed to be well into project development at our
sites and I have two interesting projects going at the moment. It was
hard to get my counterpart interested in teaching but she seems to be
warming up to the idea and she is actually quite a skilled
teacher….plus she has the good local language skills. In a country
of 83 islands where there are well over 150 local languages and a poor
understanding at the local level of the official language Bislama it
is almost mandatory to have someone teach at the local language level.
I am doing good with Bislama and learning more French all the time.
The French I will likely be able to use in a future life, the Bislama
not after I leave this world. The projects are pig fencing and also
elimination project for the skin disease YAWS.
YAWS is a contagious disease and is exacerbated by the dirty
conditions. We are supposed to be teaching handwashing with soap (WHO
has done studies that say soap is better for ’emulsifying’ dirt and
washing it away) but soap is rare and even harder to keep. Many
locals make soap but it is labor intensive, the rats love to eat it,
people often steal it, the dogs carry it away, and it melts in the
sun. It also costs 50 vatu or 50 cents and when the average income is
about 200 vatu a week that is a lot of money…people use the big
money to attempt to pay the school fees.
Oh well….another third world challenge.
Am able to do some salt water (sea) swimming in a protected lagoon (in
other words there have been no shark sitings in the lagoon and the
locals are willing to get in the water there) near my home and that
has made a big difference in the flexibility of my less than perfect
knee. Aching all the time so I keep chomping down the tylenol in
hopes that some day I will not have to take any. I suppose what I
feel is just normal arthritis but I have been spoiled in my life to
date (or rather before bike accident in August 2011) with having very
little physical discomfort so permit me my fifteen minutes of whining.
It is Sunday here so I just went to church at Sacre Cour and the mass
and sermons were in French and of course very long,. They have not
learned the developed world catholic church need to race through the
mass, have a seven minute sermon asking for money, and sing one verse
of the songs but I do think compromise is in order…two to three
hours of hard bench sitting and concrete floor kneeling is a little
much. Singing is good…very well rehearsed and at this cathedral they
flash the words to the songs up on the wall with a projector(big city
stuff). In Lamap on Island Malekula the words are hand written on a
piece of crumpled paper and posted with clothes pins on a colorful
piece of fabric (calico) that is held up by a couple of people. But
the result is the same. People get warmed up after verse one and plow
through all the way to verse six!
As in America, offertory donations are usually 100 Vatu or 1 dollar.
Given the average income that is often giving that stretches the
Next trip for me is Hawaii in December! Can’t wait and of course hope
that the four stops from Vila to Honululu and on to Georgines on Kona
go without cyclone incident as that is the season. Imagine a planned
22 hour layover in your favorite airport and then picture me sitting
in the corner of the airport in SUVA, Figi for 22 hours – likely
without the benefit (curse) of the airport mall and the overpriced
My new personal project is muscle building so I have been trying to
figure out what kind of protein foods I can increase a little. I have
plenty of peanuts, eggs are less plentiful but available, lentils, and
tuna fish. Kind of boring but should do the trick. We shall see. I
had been spoiled with the pool and cybex choices at the JCC health
club but having lost some weight I have more flab than firm sloshing
around my body so need to tighten stuff up.
Not much meat or fish although it is available. I don’t trust fish
that is not wiggling when I buy it and beef is sold in kilograms (2.2
pounds) when I can get it and even a serious body builder would have
trouble chunking down that much beef. Without refrigeration it is
cook it and eat it or give it away. Pig meat and Chicken wings are
available sometimes but the chicken wings are scrawny and without
crispy celery and ranch dressing and delicious deep fat frying it just
ain’t appealing.
Weather is now close to perfect and should be like this for the next
few weeks. Less humidity and temp in the high seventies. Summer will
start soon and the days of heat and humidity will stretch to weeks and
months. I got my hair cut in one of those basic filipino bobs so it
is straight and angled and short enough in the back to dry out. Lots
of the volunteers in my group are attractive young women and men who
like long flowing hair but I have moved closer to short cropped and
fairly ugly. My grey hairs fascinate the folks I work with and they
wonder how I make them……well, it is a genetic secret, isn’t it!?
Some of the women here dye their hair with a black shoepolishy stuff
that sticks for weeks and makes their hair look so fake. Secrets of
the local beautification programs. Men tend more to shave their heads
or do dreads. One of the girls I work with asked me to bring back
some purple and brown nail polish. Why you would want to paint your
nails brown when you are already brown surprises me but to each his
own…….they envy me for the straight hair.
Hope this finds you all well and I will have computer access again in
about 14 weeks. Actually fourteen weeks, six days, twelve hours, and
four minutes but who’s counting?
Update from Mary Ann October 25, 2013:
Hi all….another few days with internet access so will blast out a missive! I really have come to appreciate the convenience of e mail and I suspect any of you that have received a hndwritten note from me also appreciate the legibility. I have very few things to spend my incountry living allowance on so dropping a buck sixty on a stamp doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.
We are doing a lot of community ‘tok toks’ now…I have finally gotten my counterpart energized enough to post the notices and ask the chiefs if we can come in for a small talk on what makes a healthy community. Each village has its own chief and you must get his permission before you present anything. Recalling that southeast Malekula (where I am) had its last documented case of cannabalism in the late 1980’s, I am not likely to be so foolish as to presume I am welcome so I go through the process. When we get to the village (a loose groupng of 4-40 custom type houses and 20 to 100’s of people) we gather, usually under a large mango tree, and I spend the next 40-60 minutes going though basics. We must always start and end with a rather lengthy prayer – offered by an elder- and at the end there is a ceremonial presentation of some sort of food like bananas and taro and a long hand shaking process.
I talk about basic stuff…need for sanitation and water (or keep the cows out of the kitchen and wash yourselves regularly), and then how some of the common diseases spread-malaria, yaws, tuberculosis, etc- and some of the risk factors for other diseases like hypertension and diabetes. Also a few words about ‘respectim famili’ or don’t drink so much kava or have so many kids you can’t take care of them. Then questions which are always hard; i.e. we have dirty water, if we wash in dirty water do we get clean……duh. Or, we need to have the pigs close to the house or someone will steal them…..double duh.
So, one step forward, one and a half steps back!
I was talking of the importance of teaching children to use the long drops (toilets – you can imagine what long drop means) the other day and this way cute and totally naked three year old boy wanders into the circle and poses and pisses. I had a hard time keeping a straight face! And then just after I talked about how chickens can cause blood diseases a little flock of the critters come swooping down from a low lying bush. Like I said, one step forward, one and a half steps back!
But, that is community outreach.
So, a letter a few weeks ago or just after this ridiculous fiscal crisis was pended to January was to President Barack Obama and I told him that the commentary on US ineptitude that I could receive on my short wave radio was far less than complimentary and that I respected his position, hoped he had nice holidays with his family, and comes back prepared to face the congress and ‘kick some butt, Mr President’.
Not likely he will get it or read it but I felt vindicated writing it and expressing my opinion.
Hard to imagine why Peace Corps is considered an essential service but guess it is!? And I appreciate every one of your taxpayer dollars. I will be using some again this next couple of weeks as I must go to Brisbane Australia to the eye hospital and have a laser procedure to close a tiny hole in my retina before worse stuff happens. I had a trip over in July when my right leg was recovering from the ruptured Bakers Cyst so I do hope this is the last trip. I mentioned to someone this morning that all of this local heat and humidity has certainly taken its toll on the glue holding my aging body together so not surprising that yet something else has come unhinged. I will try and find a great pair of sneakers as well…my last two pair has just plain dissolved in the oddest places. Partly because they are ‘made in china pleather’ and not very sturdy. One pair of old nikes I have repaired or reglued at least six times.
I walk a bit on a coral crusted road (no such thing as a sealed road in my little world) and the coral just saws into the shoes. But better that than sawing into my feet!
I have enjoyed doing some project work with some New Zealand medical teams. Basically just some simple translation and organizing appointments or clinics for them. I would like to get my health center interested in supporting a solar project as it seems a good time to promote some electricity as we have to deliver babies with flashlights and suturing up those bush cuts is a problem when you can’t see the edges of the wound but they aren’t buying into the concept yet so I am reluctant to do fund raising or grant writing. A ‘cargo cult’ like melenesia has survived way too long on handouts without a need to invest much eneregy in doing for themselves and that is a tough attitude to reverse….you might liken it to ‘why should I work when I can get basic needs met without expending energy’.
After returning from Australia I will be working for another month and then off to a Christmas in Hawaii! Looking forward to seeing the changes in grandkids and shopping at a store that sells Reeses Peanut Butter cups or anything chocolate that hasn’t been graying with heat and age.
Hoping as always that this note finds you all well – stuff happens quickly when you age up so appreciate your days of feeling good.
Best to everyone and write if you can…I enjoy hearing from anybody.
Take care.
Mary A Maher
Peace Corps Vanuatu – Group 25
PMB 9097
Port Vila, Vanuatu
South Pacific
Digicell 011-678-598-5335
TVL 011-678-779-3517
From Mary Ann, received Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 2013 (Nov. 29 in Vanuatu):
Actually it is November 29th in Vanuatu and although this isnot a big food/football fest for some of you I have access to a computer and will send a note regardless of the fact that my Vanuatu Thanksgiving was actually Thursday November 28. And it will be legible!
Hot and humid here and probably cool and crispy in most of the northerh hemisphere but such is the reality of weather. Global warming and climate change is the subject of much discussion and many funded workshops and think tanks and generalized angst in the island countries and I could not be sure how much of climate change is repsonsible for the heat and humidity but it is constantly blamed for everything from rutted roads to increases in poison fish on the reef to winds and rain which may really be part of the normal cycle.
Who really knows…..rhetorical question.
In any case, aelan time is the rule of the land and things just move slowly with a lot of ‘spel’ or rest periods. My counterpart and I did a short talk in a village a few miles from where I live yesterday morning (actually I did the talk and she did the holding of the white board) and on the way back to the health center she declared that we needed to spel in the coconut plantation so we ate coconut meat and drank coconut water and watched the workers harvest coconut for copra (cattle feed) and the pigs grout for anything that they could find. Our spel lasted just over an hour – all in a days work!
I was very fortunate to get a last minute seat on the mini Cessna that services Lamap on Thursday so I came into Vila for a long weekend. Today is a public holiday in Vanuatu..it is Unity Day..so most of the shops are closed. I am in the resource room at the Peace Corps office. No one I have asked so far is really sure what Unity Day is all about but there are parades and parties and it has to do with the unification of the country after the independence was declared.
I am glad to be here though even if it is for just a few days. Today about 30 of us are having a turkey dinner with apple pie and pumpkin pie and all the trimmings at a restaurant called the War Horse Saloon which is owned by an expatriate from Texas. They will also have the big screen TV and the the Packers Detroit game so if you know who won don’t tell me how much the point spread was..it is almost real time satellite!
But, No Cool Whip Flo!!
So, besides being thankful for all of you as friends and family, I am thankful to have gotten a last minute seat on a crowded plane. The plane was an 18 seater and stuffed with people and live chickens. We had two pilots – one a seasoned (think old and wrinkled but very funny Aussie) and the other a young and fairly nervous learner of bush piloting skills. I had the seat just behind the cockpit so had a good view of all the activity – not that I understood anything but I was keeping an eye on the 26 dials and guages anyway. Our seasoned pilot reminded us to fasten our seat belts and said he ‘thought’ there would be enough life preservers in case of a water landing. Both propellers worked, nothing seemed to rattle or shake in a omnious fashion, and forty five minutes after take off we clunked to a landing at Bauer International Airport (think one air strip) in Port Vila. The young australian seated next to me led the passengers in a round of applause for the learner and he turned and smiled at all of us – looking relieved and happy to log in his flight time on his road to independent piloting.
I will return to Lamap on Monday morning and in the meantime have a full couple of days of activity which include eating ice cream and cheese and washing my hair in clean water. Even thoughtoday is a public holiday here in Vanuatu, there is a cruise ship in so many of the shops are open and gouging tourist in true ‘we will never see them again’ fashion. I learned early to speak enough fluent Bislama to let shop keepers know that even though I was a white man, I was NOT a tourist and did not expect to pay inflated prices for stuff. Eventually this practice hurts the tourism industry but in the short term it does spell profits for the shop keepers.
Project wise, I have found some satisfaction in preparing and presenting talks in the village about healthy community practices. It is a short talk/discussion in my unique bislama. I will never be able to speak the local language but folks seem to understand my bislama or at least they are polite enough to keep their attention focused for the 45 to 60 minutes. We discuss importance of clean water and sanitation, how to prevent some diseases like malaria and yaws and tuberculosis, how to treat community with respect (mostly that has to do with gentle reminders not to abuse Kava and do crazy and stupid things like burn down houses and beat up your wife or kids). The kava part of the talk is the last part of the talk and brings out the most discussion. The use of kava as a recreational drink is very widespread and part of the culture. It may also be part of the reason that people are so laid back and happy….I understand there is research being down to use kava as an antidepressant but in the short run the production of this disgusting grey and gritty drink is not at all quality controlled so is not ready for an export market. Kava abuse affects most body systems and was traditionally only a male and a ceremonial drink but is now consumed by many women. What I see happen with kava abuse is a real attitude of lethargy. My host mama drinks a lot of kava and functions on only a few of her allotted cylinders during most of the day time hours. With the increase in kava use there is also a relaxation of family planning activities so bigger families are becoming more normal and pregnant moms are affecting unborn babies with mostly unknown problems. Anyway, it is all part of the public health challenge.
Have also had a few sewing classes using my hand crank Singer Sewing machine. I would likely do more sewing but have had some increasing visual focus problems with the cataracts so threading a needle is a real challenge. No problem though as there is usually someone around who can see that little slit in the needle and put the thread right though it! We made slip covers for the Save the Children waiting room furniture and I have been teaching how to make pot holders and small things like ‘pin clothes’ (that would be clothes pins in English). It is a good way to use up calico. Another good project is recycling dead umbrellas (those nylon and colorful pieces of the umbrella) and making food carriers. I could stay very busy with this project in NYC where dead umbrellas are the norm after a rain storm. But nylon is strong material and since most of the stitching is done for you it is very simple. Whoops, just reread this paragraph…should read little bags for the clothes pins that I am making with the scraps of the calico.
Another good project has been using empty plastic peanut butter bottles and shelled peanut cans to make small dolls. I just paint big eyes and mouths on them and make the hair with some coconut shells. The kids love them and sometimes I think they come to the clinic and make themselves a nuisance just to get a toy. There are next to no toys around so anything plastic and sturdy becomes eligible. The coconut shell husks that I use are also used very effectively by the locals to stop bleeding on the bush cuts.
Anyway, that and reading everything in sight seems to allow the time to pass – I have found some decent solar lights so actually have a few more lighting options after dusk and can stay up longer. I do not like the light from candles….it might create ambiance and all that foolishness but I want to be able to see something. I bring back magazines from Vila and unlike back home I will read them cover to cover. Like the ones like the Economist and Scientific American cause they don’t have many wasted pages of advertising and articles are usually not something that I would read with such enthusiasm in my other life. When I bring up the house beautiful or country living magazines the locals just scarf them up – first to look at and later to use as kindling fodder. Interesting to note that many magazines have a coated type of paper that does not burn well – makes recyling difficult!
So much for this rambling note and hope all of you are having a nice day! Write when you can and try and build in some – but not too much – ‘aelan time’ into your schedules!
from Mary Ann, December 18, 2013: (Mary Ann is with her kids and grandkids at our cousin Georgine Busch’s home on the Big Island of Hawaii for Christmas. She arrives Dec. 22. See my blogpost of Dec. 22, 2013, for a photo of Hilo HI, May 2, 1969, and yet another family story from the year 1941.)
Merry Christmas – 2013 and Happy New Year – 2014
This is a country of a month long Christmas holiday and there are bits and pieces of Christmas appearing everywhere. It is also a country of multiple languages and creative spellings so Christmas comes through on signage as ‘Christmas, Krismas, Krismus, X-mas, X-max and Merry of course is just as varied. But you throw a bit of tinsel around the signage and it is clear. Lots of ‘charlie brown’ type of Christmas Trees are popping up in stores and airports and the chinese stores (dollar stores in your world) are doing a booming business.
Christmas music is traditional and American. Think Bing Crosby, White Christmas, etc.
Kava drinking reaches new levels and people mellowed out (aka drunk) on the traditional drink are being happy and obnoxious everywhere.
We were starting work in our villages about this time last year and all of us noted the lack of any productive activity – even for those folk who are at work. The ‘spel’ or the rest period of about one month is almost sacred. Government workers (like the Ministry of Health) are granted leave on a graduated basis depending on the length of time worked. So, six weeks to three months away from the workplace is not uncommon. There is supposed to be a rotation that ensures that someone is still at work but if your boss and a number of your work colleagues are ‘on spel’ there is not too much that happens.
Add to that the 24 ‘public holidays’ that happen during the course of the year and the short weeks and the absense of the pressure of schedules that is often seen in the more developed countries and you can see why ‘productivity’ is measured on a totally different scale.
I am able to write this letter at this time because my meeting has been re-scheduled three different times for three different reasons. I have no reason to believe it will actually happen in twenty minutes but I am using this time and internet access to send a short note.
Because of the reality of only twice weekly flights from Island Malekula I came in to Vila on Monday but will not leave for Hawaii until Sunday so I have almost a week to do stuff (and eat stuff) that is not available on the island. We have a fairly complicated process to go through to get approved to leave the country (eight different signatures) so you need a little time to wander through the maze, and Peace Corps is supposed to be an efficient american taxpayer supported business!
I will return to my island in middle of January and my projects for the next few months will include village education on non communicable diseases. We are starting with Hypertension and Obesity but will move through Diabetes, Asthma, and Cancer. Mostly trying to increase awareness of the relationships between lifestyle behaviors and non communicable diseases. There is a fair amount of ministry of health funding that had been promised to promote education of villagers on these diseases but most of that is spent on the flyers that advertise the campaign and all monies are on hold again because of a shake up in the ministry of health. Most Vanuatu health promotion monies come from the Australian government in the form of a program called Ausaid.
So, I am just moving forward with community tok toks and hoping to get some funding for boat travel from a New Zealand group called the Butterfly Trust. Using pictures for education is important here because of the high illeteracy level and my inability to speak the local language fluently but we have been able to draw pictures on the ground or in the beach sand to get the message across. Most sessions are held outside under mango trees anyway and are relatively short (one to two hours) so using available materials makes a lot of sense. Some agencies put a lot of money into three and four day workshops but since that requires figuring out how to house and feed participants (and provide the t-shirt) I have not done that…attendance at a workshop is usually very poor anyway – lots of effort, little result.
Measuring impact is a moving target but there are creative ways to do that as well. Washington (or Headquarters) Peace Corps is very intent that M&E (Monitoring and Evaulation) are documented so we write the Volunteer Report every three months and some bean counter in an air conditioned office somewhere blesses or curses our efforts to impact community health by education and health promotion.
Usually, my holiday letters are a litany of ‘been there, done that’ but you can get a chronology of my last twelve months of life by reading Dick’s blog post.
In any case. I am still here…still sweating, still learning, still wondering why and for how long! Health wise, all is stable – body is thinner but that is a good thing.
Wishing you all the best and write when you can. I will have e mail access for the next three weeks or so while I am on my holiday-an abbreviated ‘spel’ but a welcome one nonetheless!
UPDATE April 19, 2014 from Mary Ann Maher:
Hi all…wishing you the best of the season and glad the southern hemisphere is moving into winter as the summer was as miserable as last year….hot and humid! I am headed to New Zealand for a week or so and will likely see enough cool weather there to help me make good use of the one pair of gloves and two sweaters that I packed in September 2012 and have not yet used. New Zealand is in the apple picking fall right now and though I will not go far south enough to see snow, I will likely be biting into a crispy apple before too many more days have passed – maybe even apple pie ala mode or apple crisp is in my future!!
Vanuatu was heavily missionized by different christian faiths about a hundred years ago and folks here take the Easter holiday very seriously. The Palm Sunday service last week at my island site in Lamap was extraordinary! Hundreds of us did a way of the cross walk (in the hot sun) waving palm branches while the passion was being acted out. Glad for the branches to provide some needed shade but sure was a leap from the sterile 12 inch long spears of palm that are blessed and distributed in catholic churches in the US. Although all of us wear island dresses at church (shapeless muu muus or ‘mother hubbards’) and blend together that way I was still the only white face with straight hair in the mix of hundreds. And of course the length of the service reached a new limit – three and a half hours. All part of this effort called cultural integration.
It occurred to me, with a bit of a surprised start, that I was so able to understand the mix of Bislama, French, and English language that I found myself wondering why they were speaking English-in fact they were speaking the usual melange, I could just understand it.
So, comprehension and completion of service happen about the same time but, it appears that the ability to understand the language does happen.
And then yesterday was the Good Friday service (and the national holiday(s) that bracket Easter) and it was another SRO crowd to listen to readings and venerate the fallen cross. Last evening was a giant, and I mean GIANT bonfire where the hundreds of participants threw in pieces of wood representing disgressions that they wanted burned up and sent away before Easter Sunday.
Unfortunately, not a peep or marshmallow egg or chocolate bunny in sight and since eggs here are all brown you rarely see colored eggs. China stores do have the usual assortment of plastic and there is a small Easter basket tradition but most of the effort goes into loud praising and eating. I will be on the plane by 10 AM Easter Sunday morning so will miss the food fest but that is OK with me!!
Think I am plenty ‘Eastered Out’ and my tradition of making a yellow cake with coconut flakes in the gooey frosting is on hold till next year – I am also nearly ‘coconutted out’ as those coconuts and coconut water are part of my usual diet.
Our health center was the site for a very active dental clinic last week. The dentists came from New Zealand and they brought all equipment and supplies. A lot of the dentistry is extractions but there is a vision that early education will help promote tooth-brushing. Idealists that we do-gooders tend to be, it was hard to convince some of the younger members of the dental team that using floss was not going to happen – firstly it is not available on the islands and in Villa a scrawny little roll of floss is about six dollars or 600 vatu (or a couple weeks worth of food for the table.) We did have a very busy week and my job was trying to pull it all together – not an enviable task when health center workers tend to disappear at regular intervals and even more frequently when there is a need to do something. My least favorite job last week was building fires a couple of times a day to pressure cook the cleaned dental instruments…..especially annoying when it was raining and the firewood would get all wet.
I am a bit of a specialist at smoky fires anyway but have certainly gotten a lot better now that I am ready to move back into a world where building a fire requires a permit.
Next big project, the months of May and June, are in working a YAWS elimination program on Island Malekula. I will be teaching the team leaders about YAWS (an ugly skin disease) and helping to administer hundreds of doses of the antibiotic Azithromycin. I am doing the work of outreach on my Island and in so doing am saving the Ministry of Health thousands of dollars that were allocated to them from WHO. Cynics would wonder where those thousands of dollars will end up but realists cognizant of the crooked paths of corrupt practice in developing world health care know that they will end up being used for the betterment of the chosen few.
I have enjoyed my few days here in Vila as I wait to leave the country….need to get a lot of permissions signed and reports done before leaving the country. Real cheese, ceiling fans, running and clean water, swimming pools and cappachino have been part of the daily routine. I spent almost 16 hours in a small airport in Santo on Monday and airport malls are non-existent so it was a long time to sit on a hard plastic bench, swat flies, and eat airport food – AKA banana bread and crackers and not much else. Took a bus into the middle of town (*Luganviille) and was tempted into buying a slice of lemon meringue pie – only the name of the pie was familiar, the slice of pie itself was an unusual rubbery slab of tasteless yellow topped with an even more rubbery foamy white ‘meringue’.
Don’t concern yourselves with my apparent fixations on food – I will appreciate variety even more when I get home and will likely get back into the all-American groove of overeating unhealthy foods too quickly. Kind of nice to have saggy baggy clothes for a change, my zippers all appreciate not having to be squeezed into compliance. But..Wegmans Costco, Whole Foods watch out! I am the ultimate consumer!!
In saying that, dinner tonight will be one avocado (a big one) and some canned beans and lettuce and tomato salad from the market. Healthy…for sure!
Lots of rain today – I spent the afternoon on a sailing boat with a couple of friends from New Zealand. They have been here for a few months and are very frustrated with the inability to have a very small repair done so will head to New Caledonia next week where boat repairs are more easily accomplished. Kind of a shame that there is not a more reliable repair service as a lot of the tourist dollars come from ‘yauchties’ or folks who spend a lot of time sailing the beautiful waters of this island nation.
Write if you can and update me on your lives…I will have e mail access for a few more weeks. Hope this note finds you all well and that your spring time is not consumed with worry about grub worms and lawn care!
Best, Mary
UPDATES from Mary Ann in New Zealand April 28 & 30, 2014 (“New Zealand 101”):
Loving the hailstones and the cold rain and the jackets and sweaters and gloves and hat that are part of the Wellington experience! I almost got blown over twice today before I got smart and retreated to the Te Papa museum for the afternoon!
It has been fun to be out of the heat and humidity of Vanuatu for this short time – Auckland was bright and sunny but cool and the people I was staying with didn’t use heat yet (wasn’t cold enough) so I slept with socks and a jacket…they are used to the cold but my thinner body and thinner blood weren’t yet ready to accommodate. We did a lot of touring in Auckland and northern part of the north island. It is gorgeous..hilly and craggy and rain foresty. Lots of water and beaches and surf. Took a boat tour, took an extinct volcano tour, took a skywalk tour but did not bungie jump off the bridge. People actually pay a couple hundred to have ankles strapped and take a dive off the bridge. Dumb comes to mind.
I then took a bus to the resort town Rotorua and stopped in MaraMara (Hobbitown) to see the cute little hobbit houses. They are filming another sequel there now. Looks just like the movie set that it is. Rotorua is full of hot springs and spas as it sits on the middle of a thermal bed so there are geysers and steam shoots all over. I had a nice B and B with a private thermal pool which I has to cool down to 39 (C) but it was a nice experience. I was in the pool a couple of times a day – thinking of course that it would do wonders for my arthritic knee since the area is considered a healing site. The big thermal baths there were fashioned after German spas and still attract a lot of elderly and infirm…..I still have an arthritic knee but enjoyed it anyway!
I had never seen geothermal heating before but the homes are heated with the water from the hot springs and are very warm….like a radiator. So, able to ditch the jacket and socks during sleep time. I also watched some serious lawn bowling – very competitive teams.
Then came the 8 hour bus trip to Wellington…perfect weather, we drove through mountains and saw snow and lots of volcanic lakes and geysers. Bus was comfortable and crowded. I was glad not to have to share a seat with a multi-hundred pound man (and there were a few on the bus) and was impressed with how business like the drivers were….”we will be here for three minutes and if you are not back on the bus, oh well”….and they meant it! We were allowed 32 minutes for a ‘tea’ break (lunch to the non Kiwi traveler) and everybody was ready to get back on in 28 minutes…it is a long walk from Flat Hills, NZ to anywhere!
Sheep are everywhere – very content. Not realizing they are being pampered with good grazing so that their wool can become an expensive sweater. I was sitting on a railing during my tea break eating a piece of carrot cake and all of a sudden this head and nose burrowed under my cake eating hand and took my calories away. Big fat sheep – hope he gets a cavity from all the sugar in the frosting. Wiser travelers than I knew not to sit of the railing and got a good laugh.
Wellington is built on hills so is an interesting walkabout town. I will head up to the university area tomorrow – lots of government stuff and tourism here….the CBD (central business district) is very active…some streets are closed to traffic. My room window at the Wellington Club is just a few (earthquake safe) feet away from a government office building window and I was able to look over this (probably government workers) shoulder at a few different times today….at all my snoopings she was working hard on her face book accounts….close enough I could almost read her postings.
I did buy some food in the local supermarket – even I hesitate to pay the exorbitant prices for restaurant food (can’t figure where the NZ obesity comes from as the cost of groceries would seem to preclude overeating anything) – and I noticed that a lot of foods are imported from USA. I bought an orange for 1.50 and a banana for 1.00 and of course my cheese and nuts! The cheese and nuts are worth their weight in gold but I haven’t paid anything for oranges and bananas for quite awhile so guess it is just time to catch up.
Anyway, couple more days and then back to Vanuatu…nice trip!! To be recommended but bring money, nothing is ‘cheap’ except, for me, getting here from paradise.
Be well. M
April 30, 2014
Hi…just using up a few more minutes of WiFi at the hotel before heading to the airport on the local bus…fortunately the bus lines strike scheduled for today is not happening so all is good. Something about low wages for hard working bus drivers! Sound familiar?? Remembering a different scenario in Paris a few years back when a last minute strike left everybody headed for ORLY struggling to find transport and then stuck on jammed up roads…that was also the day the “shoe” bomber was trying to leave and the airport became a real mess in a hurry! I may be more philosophical now, or I may be looking for good reasons to stall on return to the happiest country in the world, but I am not too worried about delays of being stuck here in Wellington for any reason.
Last night had a delicious rack of lamb…lamb was always a sort of smelly dish for me but I have been treated to some really great meals while here. It is fun to have a little more variety of foods available. Interestingly, fresh fruits and some vegetables are imported from USA and I was appalled to see them have to throw away overripe avocados at the store a few days ago as these are the same avocado (or butterfruit in Malekula) that cost about four dollars each and would have been perfect for guacamole….and of course they are in season now in Malekula so cost nothing.
I optimistically bought some New Zealand knitted stuff (blends of wool) – merino wool from the sheep; possom fur from the possom, and silk from the worms – and sent it back to USA by post. Hope it will get there but it couldn’t go through Vanuatu without being fumigated and taxed past its original sale price point. Post office lady here said stuff usually makes it to the United States- we will see – I could not replace it if it didn’t….like those trumpet shells they confiscated in Port Vila cause the edges were too pointy – I am still trying to get past that injustice!
In other news that is fit to print, I did gain a few pounds – no surprises there – butter, whole milk, cheeses and of course ice cream – I really wanted to as I was feeling pretty gaunt and looking pretty scrawny – and in general found the New Zealand experience well worth the short trip. It is an expensive country and a bit out of the way for the American traveler, I feel fortunate to have been here twice in my life – I must say I most enjoyed the city of Wellington. Great museums and art galleries and street sculpts and interesting shops, including a well appointed Salvation Army Family Store (where I bought a lime green knitted hat to match my lime green all weather jacket). Hat likely never worn in case you’re thinking “YUK” and a good price but not eligible for the 50% discount as hats are not considered ‘shoes and clothing’. The high country with its sheep and volcanoes and geysers was interesting and Auckland area with the beaches and bustling city life was also nice. So many movies are filmed here that Wellington is nicknamed ‘Wellywood’. It is super clean here, maybe cause it is the center of government and the surfaces are polished regularly. LOTS of steps, this is a very hilly city. I walk 110 steps to get to my hotel from the main shopping street – justifies the butter, whole milk, cheeses and ice cream at the end!
Hokey name, Wellywood’ – I didn’t see any notables but perhaps would not recognize an actor if I tripped over one, or more likely fell down the stairs on top of one.
Couple more days of internet in Port Vila and then back to Lamap , Island Malekula on Monday the 5th of May. I will get right into the village education project and be spending a few weeks sitting under mango trees teaching locals how to use soap. WHO provided soap in large bread loaf size bars that we are expect to cut into small pieces with our bush knives before distributing. As good as soap is and there is lots of research to support regular use, it is still a far flung thought in the minds of most villagers….I think time and money could be better spent on cleaning up the water supply – there is something stupid about washing with soap when the water is brown with mud! Or maybe I am just annoyed about having to carry the ‘loaves’ in my backpack.
But who am I? Just a community health facilitator living the dream!!
Hope this finds you all well and that your day and week are good – looking forward to eyeball contact with all of you in just a very few months now….god willing!
Post received from Mary Ann, June 7, 2014:
Hi all……It seems to have taken a few years but I am finding the weather is actually quite pleasant this last couple of weeks..Temps in the 80’s and humidity in the 70’s. We are moving into winter and the nights are about 13 hours long – a shame that the short days and the natural sunlight and the good weather all happen together. It would be nice to have long days now but they seem to happen in the very hottest time of the year!
I am unexpectedly in Port Vila this weekend to have some dental work (a crown replacement) done – the dentist was French and reminded me a lot of Doogie Howser but expect he was competent enough. He asked me how long I had had the crown in place and I decided not to say ‘longer than you have been alive’ but most probably it was!
Anyway, all is well that ends well and dental work is over again till the next time. Amazing how many parts the human body has that can go awry at any time or perhaps it is more amazing that not many parts of the human body do go awry!
Shopping today took me to the french store to buy cheese and a baguette and my new favorite protein source, sardines! You can get 8 (eight) plump little sardines packed in oil and smelling to high heaven for only 280 vatu or two dollars and eighty cents. I have to be careful when I eat them on the island as the fishy smell is a great attraction for the centipedes. Knock on wood, I have not been bitten yet but it is a real possibility. They are not lethal bites but folks that have been bitten say they are sooooooo painful. Protein is a little hard to come by on the islands so I use the protein powder (actually not a bad taste) just like the elite athletes and have come to tolerate powdered milk and flavored tuna fish. Think my love affair with peanuts is one of the reasons I popped the crown off my tooth but I discovered you can make a really nice candy with jelly and peanuts….and they are so available! Peanut butter, however, is another story. It is a depressing brown glue that is jammed into a small bottle and does not even have a peanut smell. I look forward to Jiffy Extra Crunchy!!
Even at all that effort at protein and exercising in place I have some fairly puny little muscles and look forward to building them up again with a little better diet and some reasonable exercises. I still go to the reef most every evening after work but someone stole my reef shoes a couple weeks ago and walking on coral is not high on my list so I have to wait for the tide to come in…..and though I have never seen one, rumor still persists that the tide brings the sharks up closer. Usually I am with a group of children and of course one of the alerts to avoid sharks is to not have splashy activity in the water in the area of sharks – however, twenty to thirty naked ni vans in the water splash a lot! But, no sightings and all limbs are still in place!
Back to the island on Monday armed with enough supplies to get me through the next month or so…..always have a little shopping list from folks and I am OK with that if they cough up some money first but I have been stuck enough times with tramping all over and getting stuff and then going back and trying to get reimbursed is a nightmare – seems as though it is bad manners to ask for money and since it is even worse manners not to offer to bring back something I sometimes feel as though I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. I always bring back apples and carrots and they sell really big pieces of banana cake at the airport so it is a food feast at the health center when Mary comes back from a ‘trip to town’.
Enough chatter from this end! Hope all is good in your world and that when you enjoy your peanut butter on toast you think of me with pale brown glue on crackers!
Have a great week! Mary
Mary A Maher
Peace Corps Vanuatu – Group 25
PMB 9097
Port Vila, Vanuatu
South Pacific
e:mail: maem1942ATgmailDOTcom.
from Mary Ann June 20, 2014 (added June 26, 2014)
Will be cleared to leave country as soon as “Washington confirms” and those of you who live under the watchful eyes of big brother know how variable that can be – days weeks……
In the meantime a few more reports and walkabouts and packing and repacking to reduce my life to the two suitcases that I came to Vanuatu with…I was farewell gifted with some bulky wood carvings and of course the outrigger is fragile so will need to be carried on – I see it as a good re-gift to a grand child, hard to believe that I actually traveled at times in one of those – even the ‘good ones’ look rickety. Also got a island wood pig tusk that is actually used as legal tender in some of the remote areas. Guess it is a real honor to get that gift as it is considered a money gift. Have to do more research on it. It weighs about 2 kilo and was presented to me with a great deal of pomp and circumstance.
Lovely to have internet access again and clean water – the water pressure in the shower that my room uses at my 1.5 Star motel (Pacific Paradise) is awesome – powerful enough to debride my skin and hot enough to make steam!
A big difference from a week ago when I had to wait a day for the mud to settle out of the tub of (relatively cold) water that I laced with bleach to make clean enough to bucket bathe with…..definitely easy to appreciate amenities when you have very few in your world! And, frankly, not so different than turning on the tap water in the north house in Sykeston ‘way back when’ and the smelly water with the dead minnow rushed out!
June 26, 2014
Been a hectic last week but have found Peace Corps to be relatively efficient in processing the final exit paperwork – and there is a mess of paperwork. I counted 88 steps and 12 signatures but I may have missed a few, my leaving is called a medical separation which is sort of like an honorable discharge instead of a defection.
Be assured that no crisis has happened, I just felt it was time to get a little more follow up with the knee so have appointments (at PC expense) in July for follow up stateside. I am tired of gobbling up the Tylenol arthritis and will be more settled when other options are explored. Site was glad/sad to see me go but we have accomplished a lot over the time I have been there – whether or not some of these habits stay in place is way beyond my control but I did the best I could. So basic to the health of this community is a clean water supply and that is going to be a real stretch for them as there are too many competing interests and tribal boundaries and don’t think the word negotiate translates to bislama – Dick, they need your help! But, we try and try again! Leaving with some more positive thoughts about my last 21 months, 4 days, 18 hours but still feel it is the right decision to go back to the United States and get the local health care system involved in this orthopedic issue that keeps grinding and locking my right knee.
Had a farewell dinner last night and as the only non-traditional (spell that over 35 years old) volunteer I was very honored to have so many of the volunteers attend and just be plain nice – they are young, energetic, enthusiastic and truth be told probably a little jealous that I was leaving. I am gladly missing a few more peace corps trainings but close of service is end of September anyway so not missing much.
Weather has improved remarkably over the last few weeks, it is winter here, and the temperature is nice at about 80 degrees with 70-80% humidity. Actually it is raining today. but the last few days have been bright and sunny so the tourists who flock here for their winter holidays have been able to walk without drinking a liter of bottled water every few blocks. Big cruise ships end up here 3-4 times a week and that is a huge bump for their tourist industry.
I did finish my last big project at site and it went very well. Mass immunization programs can be pretty intimidating but we had reasonably well trained teams and the per diem (that is money folks) offered to the teams by the WHO provided some incentive. We covered more than a hundred villages (four teams in all) and about 5000 people so hope that the Azithromycin dosing does the trick and turns around and eliminates the disease Yaws. It has been eradicated in India so there is some reason for optimism but time will tell.
I stuffed everything into the two suitcases that I came with – no small feat since the village gifted me with heavy and traditional wood carvings that have grandchildren written all over them! I am in transit now – painlessly as the lounge at the airport in Nadi, Fiji is quite well stocked with amenities and comfortable chairs and Wi-Fi access so the next eight hours will go quickly and then is the ten hour trip to Los Angeles where I will clear customs and have a short layover before the final leg of the trip. Have to do some more cruising in the duty free shops here and may find some more pearls of the south pacific.
Not likely to be back this way in my lifetime so may as well contribute some to the local economy. I will do that after I have my afternoon tea with finger sandwiches and my favorite shortbread cookies. Ironically, it is the same brand that was sold in the little store at Lamap (Scotch Fingers) but they taste so good in Fiji cause they are made here and have not been expired for a year or more! Persons who live by the ‘use by’ dates would find very little to eat in the local stores in Vanuatu. I usually looked at the dates but mostly cause it was interesting – I ate the foods unless they had the classic signs of spoilage and I am none the worse for wear. Go figure.
Anyway, I will be back in touch in the united states but my phone number will change back to the 585-773-4627 (I think that is the number but can’t find it right now.) Verizon will replace vodaphone!!
Enjoy the week!
Mary A Maher