September 5, 2004
We are coming home now, which is super exciting, but totally sad. I think the Indigo Girls said it best (and really
don't they say everything best?) when they sang "for every strange and bitter moment, there was never a better time."
So very true. This was for sure the hardest thing ever. It was frustrating more times than not, but it is funny
how when all is said and done, I know that is was the best time of my whole life. It was wonderful and horrible.
I guess if I were to describe it in a word I would have to say that it was everything, because it was. It was
horrible and wonderful. It was paradise and it was hell. It was so boring and so exciting. I've never felt
so strong, and I've never felt so weak. Vanuatu brought it all out for me. The best and worst of humanity.
I am getting weird and sappy, I know.
I won't go blow by blow through our goodbyes, but I will say that it was the longest and hardest week of my life last
week. Saying goodbye to people (and dogs) was hard, but for some reason, just saying goodbye to that little island was
the most emotional for me. It is funny how you can love a place. It is especially funny how you can love a muddy,
humid, rat-infested place.
There are moments when I forget the present and can just be excited about coming home. Those are usually the moments
that I am looking at JCrew.com.
...OK, and when I am thinking about you guys:)
Thanks for all of your support for the past two years. See you on the other side.
Over and Out,
July 22, 2004
And so.......Here we are again. We just flew in on this totally flashy new plane that they have making the run
from Santo to Vila. We actually had a flight attendant!
I am totally out of cool things to report, and I am really tired, so I will just get to the cute story................
I am not sure if I am living in the only country that still likes the US or maybe I have just been reading too much Newsweek,
but, anyway, I had this really cute encounter the other day that made me feel a bit patriotic, so I thought I'd share it...We
were over in this village in on West Malo called Avunatari ,which I know probably means nothing to you, but anyway, so we
are there, and Bri is teaching this workshop, and I am hanging out with all the women and children. There is this old
guy there sitting with the women and one of the women announces to us that the old guy knows a song about America. I
ask him to sing it for me and he starts into "God Bless America" and sings it in perfect english all the way through.
( I don't even know all the words to God Bless America!!!!!) I am getting goosebumps it is so beautiful, and I ask him
where he learned it. He told me that he was 12 when the US soldiers came to Malo during WWII and then he went on
to tell me of them sharing chocolates and teaching him songs including God Bless America, which he remembers all these years
later. I got a really cool visual of this little boy sitting around with the soldiers under the coconut trees on this
white sandy beach and of them all singing together. It was a nice visual. Much nicer than anything I have seen
in Newsweek lately anyway.
I guess that's it for cute stories.....what else is new....Well, school is fine. My shampoo was stolen AGAIN!!!
Lucky I have the Pethicks! Our school manager is still a total jerk. This isn't new....we have known this for
a long time. He is a total creep. And so we were sad, but not surprised, when his wife showed up at our house
one afternoon with two black eyes and her face bruised and swollen so much we nearly didn't recognize it. She sat on
our door step and told us the story about their fight. She and the kids wanted to go to the community party with him.
He wanted to be a big man and drink kava with the guys and it totally cramps his style when he's got kids pulling on him all
night and his wife makes him hold the baby while she eats. She argued, so he hit her on the head with a flashlight and
then beat her face in and left her to bleed and cry. She didn't cry until she started to tell us about her dilema.
She wants to run away, but she knows she can't take her kids. The custom is that because he paid the bride price for
her, he gets the kids and she gets nothing. She has to go back to live with her dad and is totally shamed. My
heart breaks for her and there is nothing I can do. These are the sad things in Vanuatu. These are the things
I wish I could change, and these are the things I can't change.
......I guess I will end on a cheery note. Sandyma had puppies! We got to watch the whole thing. It
was fasinating and disgusting, but she is a good little mom.
We are in for the weekend. Write us an email! We miss you guys like crazy!!!!
What a Long Strange Trip It's Been...
May 6, 2004
Yeah, I have just been thinking lately that our life is really weird. Wanna hear about it?...
The other Sunday we went to church. As is the custom the pastor went through and thanked practically every member
of the congregation individually for coming at the beginning of the meeting, and as is also the typical fashion he saved us
for last. He said something like this,"We are so glad that Mr. Brian and Melissa can be here with us. I give thanks
that through Jesus Christ we can all be sitting here together today. If it weren't for Jesus Christ, we would probably
have cooked you on hot stones and eaten you, but I give thanks that now we have Jesus and can be here together today....Yeah...Amen
to that, eh?
We were having a discussion with some people the other day as we were waiting for a boat. We were sitting on the
beach having this nice little chat. They were asking us about birth defects and we were explaining that sometimes the
mother didn't eat well, or maybe she drank too much, or maybe she was too old, but sometimes it just happens too. This
guy says something like,"Yeah, Yeah it is very true. That is why family planning is so important" and I am thinking
that I am really happy for whatever volunteer or NGO or Health Worker who came through and did awareness about family planning
because sometimes you see people who really got the message and you think someone did a great job, and isn't here to see the
success in their program. and then the guy says, "yeah, like a knew this lady one time who gave birth to a flying fox
[these really big bats we have here], and thought it must be because she didn't use family planning." and then I was
thinking that I am pretty sure that was not part of any awareness program, but whatever, it works. But the really weird
thing is that this did NOT feel strange to me at all. Conversations about people giving birth to strange things
and devils being spotted in the bush are pretty common occurance for us.
The Kindy is full of really funny stories....like one of my cute little students came in the other day excited to tell
me that her mom had caught a wild puss cat and cooked it for dinner. And like the time we had a lesson on
our senses, which isn't as easy as it sounds because there is only one verb for just about all of them, so it is a little
hard to explain...but we were talking about our noses and we read "The Nose Book" by Dr. Suess and then talked about smells
and drew pictures of things that we like to smell. I thought something like bubble gum or flowers or something...all
the kids drew pictures of pigs. They like the smell of them, I guess. They had other things like soap bars, but
pigs were unanimously a favorite. I could go on about the kindy forever. It is so funny....but,
Anyway, our life is weird. It is funny and weird, but good. We are happy these days. ...Really!
You know I haven't been one to sugar-coat all this. I am loving it. Well...mostly. I still have
"less enthusiastic" moments. But we are really doing it now. We are making it. It feels really good...
I don't want to be abnoxious and toot my own horn. I mean you are still reading this, and I am so appreciative.
I don't want to turn this into my own personal bragging board or something and tell you how we are SO integrated and
all this, but we do have friends here and feel alot more adjusted. School is out for a couple weeks and we are in Vila.
It is fun to be in.
Nothing new really. Same old stuff.
We love and miss you guys!
March 15, 2004
Hello Everyone! And Happy St. Pattys day to All. I think we will celebrate with green Cabbage or green Papayas or something.
I hope the rest of you enjoy your green pancakes or beers or shamrock cookies or whatever.
All is well. We survived cyclone Ivy! It really wasnt scary or life threatening or anything like that, so nobody worry. I actually enjoyed it. The wind and rain reminded me of home,
and I welcomed the cooler weather as a nice change from the unbearable heat weve had.
And it added some much-needed excitement to our slow little island life. Our
bath house that was blown down has been rebuilt and is better than new with a new and improved raised ceiling. Our radio antenna is back up and life has resumed as normal. We
are half way into the term which is pretty nuts. I am not even just saying this-- Time is flying this year. O.K. Maybe not FLYING, but it is going much faster than last year. Teaching
is going well at the Training Center. Luckily the boys this year seemed to be
much better behaved than the bunch we had last year. In Fact, my most disruptive
student this year is Washington, who comes to class with me everyday and eats chalk off the ground and walks around to growl
at the boys while I am lecturing. I kick him out of class and he walks over to
Brians class to do the same until he gets kicked out. The kindy hopefully will
start soon. The rest of life is just the same.
We totally have senioritus this year. We are pretty lazy and are getting
ready to get back into real life again. We are getting a poultry project started
at the school, which should be pretty cool. If we would have gotten on it earlier
we could have actually eaten the eggs, but by the time they start laying we will probably have all the eggs we want anyway.
I have only been called fat 2 times since coming back from NZ, and I consider this excellent! All that protein can do wonders for a girl. Now I am back
to the root crops again. I did acquire quite a taro tummy last year, as I noticed
when I finally got out of a mumu and in front of a mirror in NZ. This year I
am trying to eat more tuna, and less lap lap, and see how I make out. I have
this nightmare that we come home and everyone gushes over Brian and how frail and thin he is, and then look over at me and
say something really Ni-Vanuatu like Melissa you have gotten CRAZY fat. So, dont
Our little family is doing great. Washing is CRAZY cute and
Sandma is smelly, but we love her. Our new little addition is Smooshy the kitty. She is keeping the rats away, so we love her for that.
Word on the street is that Puss Cat has been spotted around the school lately.
I dont know if the prodigal kitty is returning, but we will keep you posted.
Well, that is it around here. We are in Santo getting some
work done now, so this is costing me a fortune to write. I guess I will just
go. We love and miss you all.
Feb. 11, 2004
We are back, and I really have to take back all the nasty
things I said about how painful coming back was going to be because it really was very, very nice.
We are glad to be back in our own house again, and it was great to see our friends, and all the pikinini,
and (of course) little Washington and Sandyma.
They were so excited to see us
and we were soooooo excited to see them.
It really was a nice little reunion.
We got back and werent there very long when our friend Josh called us on our radio
and told us he was coming up to Santo, so we went and met him, and we all dove the USS Coolidge together.
Did I mention we got scuba dive certified and all that?
We love it.
It is really fun
and we have seen some amazing stuff.
The Coolidge was the most amazing, though.
It is a huge ship that hit a mine during WWII here.
You have to do tons of dives
to see it all, so we just did the first one, and we will save the rest for when we need breaks later.
Other than that we have been getting ready for school to start, which it should sometime this month.
We ate all the mangos and now the trees are bare.
It is too hot to move, so we just lay around a lot and read.
I came in
this morning with my friend Lewia and her daughter Luisa and Baby Brian.
Brian is huge and cute and has a few teeth now.
We are worried about him because
he is sick and has sores all over his body, so he is going to the hospital today.
will see what happens.
Big Brian stayed back there to work, and I came into town
to work on our new years resolution to spend all of our money.
Reallywe are resolved
to do it.
So, all is going here. We love and miss you all.
January 1, 2004
I just have nothing to say anymore. It is just the same old stuff all the time. This maybe a pretty boring
update, so I will just be totally upfront and admit that all this is is just a ploy to get emails. You don't
even have to hear all of our pet stories and all that. You can just stop here and write us an email.....
Well, we really don't even have pet stories. I haven't even seen my darling, little Washing in over 2
months. I miss him tons, and it is lucky for him because going back would be super painful if I didn't know
that I get to go back to him. Our vacation has been good. New Zealand was everything I dreamed it would be.
We blew about our entire life savings, I lost my running shoes, and I wrecked our rental car....but it was all totally
worth it. We hiked and saw the Kiwis, Brian bungee jumped, we went to malls and movies. It is really
beautiful, and it sounds so dorky, but the people are really one of the best parts. They are great. Since we have
been back, we have just kept the vacation rolling here in Vila. We have been renting movies and surfing the internet
for hours a day, so we can stay in the air-conditined Peace Corps office. Christmas was pretty low-key. We watched
Home Alone and I made peanut butter cookies. New Years was pretty low key too. We went over to some friends house.
Our life is pretty low-key these days, I guess.
.....O.K. I do have one pet thing...we are taking a cute little kitty back with us. She doesn't have a name
yet, but she is really cute.....
O.K....pretty boring, huh? When we were in New Zealand, we went to this bar to see what time the rugby world cup
game was on there and the guy said it was going to start at 10pm. I said, "Oh, I don't know, that is
really late" and he looked at me and said, "How old are you?" I thought it
was really funny, and it made me feel really boring. This is what Vanuatu has done to me. So, just
keep emailing me about all of the exciting stuff that is going on back in the good ol' USA-- where everything is
November 9, 2003
Hey again! Just sitting here procrastinating writing some training reports. I really
have nothing to say. Still just here in Vila. Still husbandless. Still excited to leave for New Zealand.
Training is going well. I really like that kind of stuff. This week is a week of trainees and their counterparts.
That should be interesting. It has been pretty good doing training too, because it forces me to be really positive,
and that makes me love my job more. I guess it helps too that I am not going to be back there for a long time.
It makes me think about all the good things back there. Same thing when I think about back home. I never think
about traffic or bills. Just all the people I love and driving in the car and listening to country music on sunny days.
I am missing Washington already. I saw a little dog that had a face like his the other day. Some kids
were stoning him and stuff and laughing. I just about started crying thinking of leaving him. How weird am I getting? I guess I am getting a little sentimental too because some
of the volunteers are coming through now on their way home. It is really weird. It is making me think about
leaving here for good. I mean I am leaving here for awhile, and even that is kind of hard, but someday it will
be forever.... Maybe not forever, but I may never be a Peace Corps volunteer again, and that is really
weird to think about. It makes me a little sad. I know I may be jumping the gun a little here, because I
still have quite aways to go, and I am sure that between now and the end I will think of how bad I want to get the
heck out of here about a thousand times. But really stepping outside of it all and looking back in has given me
some really weird revelations about how much I really do, in a totally weird way, love that muddy, "malo" island. Maybe
I wouldn't even call it love, but maybe I would call it like or something. I guess ideally I would be thinking about
the people more than my dog. I guess I need to work on that.... No seriously, I am getting weird. Those weird,
old cat ladies....yeah, I am like a young, married, weird dog lady.
Anyway, I saw this picture of Jewel the other day...man is she selling out. How sad.
For the record: I have given up my dream of being Jewel when I grow up. I just want to be normal
I love you guys alot. I love you guys even as much as my dog (...well some of you).
That is a ton!
November 1, 2003
I am free! I am done with school for the year. The kids are getting out for summer break
in 2 weeks, but I had to leave early and come down to Vila to do training for the new volunteers, so I left a little early,
but it feels so good to be done.
I am here in the city husbandless. He is coming down in a couple weeks when school is out,
so I guess in the meantime, he and Washington have a little bachelor pad. Actually not really, because Washington has
a woman now. We have ANOTHER pet. I feel like this website is starting to sound like the births/deaths section
of the newspaper or something. The good news is that I have no pet deaths to report this time. Our new little
girl dog's name is Sanma. She is alright. She looks alot like Washington, but she has sharp teeth, and I really
think she may actually EAT MAN. She is mean. But she loves us, and Washington seems happy with her, so isn't that all
we can ask for?
I know that I talk way too much about my pets, but I told you about
how we castrated our dog with a rubber band and it was totally gross. Well, there is a funny little story
to go with it...Washington barks at people alot, and we spoil him and so he is just really bad, but when
he was little, he would bark alot at people and it was really embarressing, especially because he followed us everywhere
we went--like church, school, other peoples houses, etc. Well they kept telling us that we needed to "cuttem
ball blong hem" so that he would "stap quiet." So we thought that if you cuttem ball it will make him be quiet.
Well, in bislama, there are so few words, that every phrase can me a few different things. So we walked around
for months and when he would bark at people, we would say "yeah, sorry he barks so much. we really need to cut his balls"
and people would look at us funny like 'what are you talking about'. Well, so the two of us only
recently put our two, little college educated minds together and figured out that with or without balls dogs still bark,
and that they were talking about him staying quiet at the house and not running away like little Puss Cat to find
a women. We are just learning so much here....
Malo is good. It is funny because since I learned Bislama, I can never remember anything from my Spanish classes.
I try to think spanish, but it all just comes out bislama. I don't know how people store all these languages in their
heads. I think my brain can only hold two. But, I did remember some spanish the other day, and that Malo means
bad. That is so funny....so Malo is good and bad. We finally got enough rain to fill our tank, and we still have
all the craziness of the black magic, but really we don't care that much, because all we are thinking of these days is NEW
ZEALAND!!!!! I can't wait. Only two weeks until we go. I am so excited for cheap long distance,
and grocery stores, beds with sheets,... gosh I could just go on forever. Three whole weeks of it.
So, Happy Halloween to you all. I wore jeans and makeup for Halloween, so I guess I was dressed up like a normal
person. It felt really good.
Love you all lots.
October 15, 2003
Yeah, Puss Cat is gone.
Evidently if you dont fix them, they will sometimes runaway to go find a girlfriend, and never come back. I was totally grossed out when we had to do the whole thing to Washington with a rubber bandI will spare
you the detailsand I wasnt really anxious to do it again, so I guess we waited a little too long, and now he is off fathering
all of his little baby puss cats out in the bush. At least he is not running
away from his responsibilities and taking an active role in fatherhood. Of that,
we as parents are proudbut it still leaves us puss-cat-less. We are working on
getting a new one, but so far, no rush We are currently rat-less too.
I started working at the kindy, which I totally love. The kids are just the cutest. It has really changed my world. We have tons of fun. We play and sing
and have snack time and brush our teeth. I just love them. They are so sweet, and not all sassy like my other students... The
kids at the training center are totally out of control. Seriously. They have stolen my shampoo now 5 times. I cant tell you how
frustrating it is. I am so sick of washing my hair with dish-soap. I go 2 weeks without shampoo, and then I finally get some and I am so happy, and then sure enoughit is
gone again. ARGHH! They have just
been so bad, and such strong-heads, but it all really came to a climax when one of the students stole the schools chain saw
one night. Our manager was so mad. He
made each of the students come in and put their hands on the bible and swear that it wasnt them. Then we had a FULL DAY parent teachers meeting and then finally the kid confessed and got kicked out of
school. They are total hoods. Things
are going along at the training center too. We are a month away from school getting
out, and we have 4 kids graduating this year.
Our biggest problem right now is that we are having this huge
water shortage. It is really getting bad, and they are saying we may have to
let out of school early. We need rain so bad.
Cows are dying. Gardens are dying.
I spent months in the mud wishing the rain would stop, and now I just
wish we could get a little back. When you need it for drinking and bathing, I
guess you just have to deal with the rain and mud. Dont it always seem to go
that you dont know what you got til its gone, huh?
The other BIG news on Malo is this dead guy up the road. He was 77, and I am thinking he died of natural causes, or something illness that
was never diagnosed, but everyone is sure that someone used black magic to kill him.
They have been having community meetings about it and EVERYONE is talking about it.
They have it narrowed down to the three people who they are sure did it, and now they are debating what to do next. It has been suggested that we tie rocks to their legs and throw them in the ocean,
but I am hoping they are just asked to move back to the islands of their heritage. The
story gets totally weird, and I wonder sometimes if they are just making this stuff up or what. The way that black magic on Malo works is that they pull out your guts, eat your heart and then put a custom
leaf inside, so you walk around for 5 days like nothing happened afterward, and then they will just find you dead. So these people are claiming that they actually found his guts out in the bush where the whole deal went
down. They say his guts are sitting in their house. I totally dont get it. It is just too weird.
Yeah, thats about it. We are doing fine. We love you guys. We just celebrated our 1 year Peace Corps anniversary. YEAH!! We will see you in 1 more!
Mel and Bri
September 1, 2003
So, I am kind of doubting that anyone is actually reading this anymore--except of course you, Manor
Ave--I got nothin' but love for ya, babies--but, if just for myself and our devoted fans in Vancouver, I will say a few words...
We are in Vila, again! Yeah!!! Brian broke a tooth while eating a guava. I am
hoping for a root canal so we can have tons of free internet...Just Kidding...I am hoping it is something totally painless
that takes a really long time.
Things are going alright back in the bush. Time has been flying lately. We have been
all over the place lately holidaying around the island with different families and visiting some of the different villages.
It has been fun, but exhausting, and we are kind of looking forward to life getting a little boring as we go back to school.
Washington and the Pussy Cat are well. They are holding down the fort while we are away.
Brian is still withering away. I'm not. Life is totally unfair. I thought weight
loss would kind of be a given living out in the bush away from all the delicious and fattening foods we have at home, but
just my luck they have tons of foods that aren't delicious that have turned out to be just as fattening for me. Like
lots and lots of carbohydrates. When we go to peoples houses for dinner this would not be an untypical meal: a
big mound of white rice with some kind of root crop on top--like sweet potatoes--with maybe some top ramen-like noodles on
top of that, and then maybe some canned corned beef on top. and I don't feel guilty at all passing my half-eaten plate
over to Brian to finish at every community function because I know the next morning while I am running it off, he will be
snoozing away and watching the pounds just melt off. Life is totally unfair.
Oh yeah, and we are really excited about our NEW BABY!!! He is really cute. Brian has
a little namesake on the island now. Our managers wife had a little baby boy this month and they named him after
Bri. He is so cute, and we pretend like he's ours because he is Brian Jr. He has a big brother that is 3 and he
told us the other day that he thinks they even look alike.
Well, that is the news from here.
We love you guys!
Mel and Bri
July 17, 2003
Because it is looking like I am not going to get my trip to Vila next month
and the free internet, I figured I had better just bite the bullet and update this a bit.
It has been forever. I dont even know when to start.... I guess I will
just go back to the beginning......
So, back in May Sonny left us and went up to Pussy Cat Heaven. It was horrible, and I cried and cried. Something about drowning
in the well was the story we heard, but it happened when we were gone, so we didnt actually see it. Probably for the better. We went out while on the rebound
and found us a new little kitty. Not nearly as cute or funny as our little Poison,
but she gets the job done. Kind of like a rebound. They never are as cute, just something to fill the void and scare the rats. Washington is doing great. I love, love, love our little dog. He
is just the cutest ever. I have never liked dogs too much. I think because my cousins dog tried to eat me when I was younger, or maybe because they smell...I dont
know, but Washington smells, and I love him anyway. He just grew on me like that. And our mama hen hatched a bunch of new chicks last month. They are getting really big now. And the lizard that lived
in our roof above our bed I think died or was eaten by our nameless puss cat. We
havent seen him in awhile. Maybe I never mentioned him before. He was like a
pet to us. We would see him every night up there.
He really deserved more press. He was great. We never had to feed him and he never whined, but he was by far giving us the most bang for our buck as
far as pets go. He ate all kinds of nasties...roaches, spiders, weird flying
bugs...We named him BadAss (and I am not, by the way, being vulgar...it is bislama).
The village is really just the same old stuff. Drama, Drama, Drama. Land disputes are the big ones here. They are always having
land disputes on Malo. It is a funny little island. The history of it goes like this.... A long time ago, the white man came to Malo. He saw lots and lots of land with really good soil, so he decided he would kill all the people and take
it for himself. So he got all the men of East Malo together and got them drunk,
and then had them drink rat poison. It nearly wiped out all of East Malo. So
he moved in and made plantations and stuff and was living there just fine. Meanwhile
in 1920-something on the island of Malekula there was lots of fighting going on. The
Big Nambas and the Small Nambas Tribes. The Big Nambas were like these big bullies. They were shooting the Small Nambas and eating them and stuff. The Small Nambas just couldnt take it anymore, and their numbers were depleting pretty fast, so they decided
to do something about it. So the remaining Small Nambas decided to move up to
East Malo, to work on the plantations there. They did that for awhile, and then
somewhere along the way the white guys left. So, now youre left with the few random East Malo people who survived, the Small
Nambas from Malakula. And since then it has been like everybody who has been chased out of their land has just come to Malo,
and you cant forget about the two white Peace Corps volunteers (Its a good thing they dont hold the whole white man poisoning
thing against us). It is like a little island of misfits or something. It is really different. There arent too many people living
on their fathers fathers land, speaking their fathers fathers language like the rest of Vanuatu. West Malo is more traditional and stuff, but where we are, nope.
We are like in the little melting pot of Vanuatu. So, it makes for lots
of land disputes.
School is going pretty well. We
are almost finished with our second term already. The kids are just really growing
on me. They are still kind of a bunch of hoodlums, but they can be some really
sweet little hoods sometimes. They really do look out for us. They are a really happy bunch. Every night we fall asleep
listening to them singing and laughing. It is a nice way to fall asleep.
Thats the best I can do I guess...I dont really have much news, I guess. We are just missing so much fun back there.
Babies like crazy. Jewel coming out with a new CD. Mariner games. Country Music Television. Beds with sheets. Clean feet.
Alright.... thats about it from here.
We are doing a lot better these days and getting used to the lifestyle here.
We love you guys. We miss you guys tons.
Thanks for supporting us, and loving us so much.
May 3, 2003
"Cheeseburger in Paradise"
Actually it was a veggie burrito, but whatever...it was heavenly.
That is right, we have returned to paradise. We are spending the next two weeks in the
beautiful city of Port Vila--the land of ice cream and paved roads.
And so we are surviving life in the bush, I will tell you all the details...but first a few
1. The internet..we have the internet once a month when we head into the "city" to do
our grocery shopping and get our mail and regain our sanity and all that. The thing is that in Santo we have to
use this little internet cafe that cost a fortune, so our time is limited there. Don't let this deter you from writing
us all really good details and gossip from home...we print them off and read them in the bush...but we just can't
always respond or sometimes we might respond something really lame like "we will write more later"--but please keep writing.
We love hearing from ya'll. AND THEN...every 3 months or so we get to come into the land of ice cream and paved roads
and FREE INTERNET, so we can do more. So...don't forget about us.
2. Mail...you can keep sending mail to our Port Vila address and they will forward it to us,
or you can start writing--
Brian and Melissa Ahrens
Peace Corps Volunteers
Vaiduhu RTC/East Malo
Vanuatu, SW Pacific
or to the two white people on Malo. Every way works. Do what feels good.
...O.k. life in the bush. I wrote this whole update last month that is lost somewhere
over the Pacific. I can give you a quick recap...the kids are hellians. It is like teaching Jr. High or something...Teaching
at Boystown maybe, and then they will totally surprise us sometimes and do something really sweet. It is like
everything here. The most frustrating and wonderful experience.
We are adjusting to the rest of life here. I am not warming up to any kind of rodent, but
I am doing pretty well with bugs and all that. I am getting pretty tough, I think. We got really sick a couple
of weeks ago. Dengue fever maybe. It was probably the worst 2 weeks of my whole life. A horrible fever.
Nausea. and the worst part was this full body rash that just itched like mad. We lived through it, though. Brian
is WAY skinny. He weighed in this morning...Don't freak out Moms...at under 150 lbs. My goal
is to put 10 lbs on him before we head back. We got a super-cute dog. He is our security dog. We named him
Washington. He "eats" man. That is what all the people from the village say. It is really funny...anything
that is spicy, stings, scratches, bites or itches. They will say it "eats" man. Bamboo eats man. Cinnamon
eats man. and Washington too, He eats man. He is our super-cute-man-eating-dog. He and Sonny
are great friends. Sonny is great too. She is as naughty as ever. Torturing rats in the middle of the night...in
our room. It is really horrible--I wake up to squeaking and rats dying right there next to the bed. The funny
part is that we were almost rat free, until she started bringing live ones into the house to play with them before
she puts them out of their misery. She is very naughty, but we love her.
Oh my gosh...how could I forget...the biggest news on Malo these days. Our school bought a
TV and VCR. We can't afford paper, and we have 16 boys sleeping in a room that probably shouldn't sleep more
than 6, but we just couldn't pass up the opportunity to watch "Herbie Goes Bananas" in our own backyard. Anytime
we want to we just borrow a generator and hook it up for hours of fun. Our video collection includes Rambo
II, Street Fighter, and, of course, Herbie. Very educational.
So, I guess that is the news. We just keep moving forward. Thanks for the mail and encouragement
for just being the best. We love you all so much and miss you guys more than you know.
Mel (and Bri)
Febuary 28, 2003
Getting So Much Better All the Time
Its been said that I sound a little bi-polar about this place. I have to say that sounds pretty accurate. This place is just
like that. One day I will be sitting on the floor of our little village church. It is a cute little cement building with a tin roof, dirt floor, surrounded by trees. I am sitting on a mat on the floor
surrounded by the cutest children singing songs about Jesus loving all his children and we are all brothers and sisters, and
I look out at the blue sky and the coconut trees and I think to myself, this is what it is all about. This is living. That very same afternoon I am back at home
and the rain has moved in. I am laying down in my little hut, on my dirty foam
pad mattress with the wood frame sticking into my back, looking up at our leaky roof and dreaming of Honey Nut Cheerios with
cold skim milk and I think to my self, What am I doing here? I could be shopping
right now or watching Country Music Television. Another couple years of this
and I am gonna lose it. It is like that all the time. The good news is that the latter thoughts are becoming less and less frequent. The first month out at site was pretty rough, but it is definitely getting better with time. When school started it made a world of difference.
Our first month was just too boring.
We were getting settled in and ready for school, but there just wasnt enough to do.
We tried to do a little gardening. Everything we planted died. It gave the village a good laugh, though. Nobody said anything
like, Its way too hot to grow anything right now. They just sat back and let
us entertain them for awhileLook at the dumb white people trying to grow tomatoes during the hot season. Even the little kids were laughing. Our little friend Luisashes
7came over with her mom one day and we were all standing outside talking and she said, Ha Ha, Look mama at their garden and pointed over to our pathetic dead little sprouts.
We are just kind of getting used to being laughed at. We get laughed at
a lot here. At first it really bugged me, but I have come to realize that it
is just how they are and they really dont mean any harm. Just one of those things
you have to get used to. If one kid in class gives a wrong answer the whole class
will just sit there and laugh at them. There are a lot of things were getting
used to that we may never understand about their culture. For example, our gardenno
one will say that wont work for fear of offending us or hurting our feelings
or something, but you can be standing around with a group of people talking and someone would have no qualms about saying
something like, you dont speak bislama very well or we are loading a boat and they will say to some woman you are really fat. You look like you weigh over 100 Kilos. Could
you please come sit on this side to balance the boat. It is the weirdest thing.
Anyway, so we spent the first month just settling in and working with our manager
to get ready for schoolBrian actually did a lot of work, and I did a whole lot of not much.
He would work with the guys cutting and moving timber and all that man stuff.
The first month was definitely harder on me. Brian had his moments, but
I actually think he is mostly in heaven here. He gets to walk around with a machete
all day. He works with tools and builds stuff, and he doesnt even have to shaveor
even shower really. He gets to hock lugies and do all that man stuff. So I had not much to do but sit at home and wait for my smelly unshaven lumberjack to come home. I would pass the time by doing all my womanly
chores, like making food or washing clothes by hand. I have found a chore that
I dislike more than any other in the worldwashing clothes by hand. To be totally
honestI was never really hot on laundry back when I had a washer and dryer and didnt live in a big muddy jungle, but being
here has brought my dislike to a whole new level. It is horrible. I scrub and scrub, and they never really look clean anyway. I
promise never to complain about laundry back home again
So, I guess it is no wonder the place took some getting used to. We were also helping our manager do some budgeting and planning for the school. This was the one time when this whole womens oppression thing really worked in my favor. I just had no patience for these meetings. They took hours---no
they took days. I am not kidding. 70%
of the time was spent sitting in silence waiting for them to speak up. So, we
didnt want to speak up too much and just let them do it, but the problem was that everyone would just space off. I was going nuts in these meetings, so Brian handled these too. They
did end up getting a lot of good stuff done, so I am glad he had the patience for them.
Then school started. What a relief! I am really loving teaching. The girls
are sweet and seem excited to learn. Right now I am teaching a unit on nutrition. It is pretty hard. The manual is in English
and I am there trying to teach in Bislama. They have no books, copy machines,
not even paper really. I feel like I am teaching back in Little House on The
Prarie. Just me, my pathetic Bislama, a blackboard, and 9 beautiful girls. They range in age from 12-17 and some have completed through 10th grade
while one is almost totally illiterate. It is definitely challenging, but I like
it. Brian is teaching business, environment, agriculture and helps with the carpentry/joinery
classes. He works a ton, but I think he likes it.
We still have our moments, but life is good here. We are rat free and healthy. It doesnt get much better than
We love you all tons!
Mel n Bri
January 8, 2002
Hiya Everyone! Well, I know this is twice in one week, but we are headed out soon, so you guys are going
to be missing these novels...or if not, I am going to miss writing them, so you will just have to humor me. We are just
frantically getting everything together before we head out to the middle of nowhere. It is a hard place to pack for.
Today we bought a drum for water--we are hoping one of these days to rig it up to catch rain-water. We are putting the
majority of our stuff on a ship tomorrow up to Santo, and then we will head up by plane to meet it on Saturday. We are
all cleared for travel. We had our medical interviews yesterday and Brian has lost 18 LBS! I didn't think
he had 18 lbs to spare. The other good news is that neither of us have come down with the dengue fever that has
been going around. It is a nasty little disease. We had a huge outbreak on a neighboring island and a few volunteers
in our group have come down with it. While we are on the issue of "health and security" I should also mention that we
didn't have the opportunity to meet hurricane Zoe. She was moving in our direction for a couple days and we were put
on alert, but took a turn north and went up to the Solomons.
AGHHHH! The bad news is that today we learned that
we are not going to get to take our communications radio up with us when we go. We had this huge Catch-22 moment today.
Something about how 15 people or so need to work together to order the parts for it because it is broken or something. Oh,
the joys of working for the government...
We haven't had alot of takers on our offer to stay with us here . I think
I may have been a little too harsh on the place, so I wanted to give it a little plug...This place is amazing you guys.
I wish you guys could see the sky here at night--it is the most stars you will ever see in your life. I wish you guys
could see the sunset on the water here, or smell the air here, or fall asleep to the sounds of the ukuleles. I know
that no one believes me when I say that this place is so romantic. It is amazing. It is Bali Hi!! Oh yes
my friends, the best things in life ARE free (or paid for by the hardworking, U.S. taxpayers--right Randy:)
January 4, 2002
Let me see....New and Exciting...Well, we are official now. Yesterday we officially were sworn
in as Peace Corps Volunteers. It was a very nice ceremony and we are glad to be headed off to actually work. We
took some oath to serve our country and respect the customs of Vanuatu, and then we had to sign something saying we would
defend the constitution or something. It all felt very diplomatic. We didn't have the President at our ceremony
this time...just the Minster of Health or Education or something. He was our keynote speaker. It was a very nice
ceremony. After the ceremony we had a big feast and dance with all of the village. I danced the night away with
all my little pikinini friends. This morning we had to say good-bye to our home in Paunangisu. It really was a
bitter-sweet farwell that ended up much more bitter that expected. We really have loved Paunangisu, and we have loved
our family there, and our friends (and our beach). We have learned so much from those people and grown so much in that
village. It was 2 1/2 months that at times felt like 2 years and now it felt like 2 minutes. We are so lucky to
have had the chance to stay in such a place. There are so few places in the world so simple and clean and safe anymore.
It was especially hard to say good bye to our mama. What an amazing woman she is. I have met very few women with
such poise. She is a wonderful mother and became a great friend to me....
O.k....so enough with all that sentimental stuff. We are still here. We are still going
to be living in a place very simple and very safe--It just isn't as clean. We came here to work, and I think it is about
time we did. We are headed out to Malo next Friday, and then real adventure will begin.
In other news...
...Our little kitty is doing very well. She was very brave on the long drive this morning
back into the city, and she is healthy and happy.
...We had a very nice Christmas and New Years. Our Christmas was very quite at home with our
family. We all just rested and talked and ate. Our New Years was a little bit less calm. These people get
wild for New Years. I am telling you these people can drink. College frat boys could not even touch the parties
these people put on for New Years. People actually board up their windows preparing for the holidays. It is so
nuts. These people drink once a year--for like a week straight. So, our papa went out with our Peace Corps Training
director and got totally tossed and then took a bunch of men from the village out driving in the Peace Corps vehicle all night.
This went on until about 9 in the morning when my mama went out and made them give her the keys. New Years Day was just
a bunch of men stumbling around the village and all the women and pikininis just holed up in the house. I think most
of the village is still drunk.
...My chicken-eating hiatus ended yesterday. Yes, after 5 consecutive meals of white bread,
I finally cracked. I ate it skin and all.
...Well I guess that is about it for new and exciting here. Not a ton of news to report.
We love you all and miss you tons. We get alot of sympathy about the rats and bush toilet, but really these things are
not nearly as hard as spending the holidays away from our family and friends. We have come to appreciate those of you
on the other side so much. Thanks for your support and we love you all very much.
December 13, 2002
Greetings from Paradise once again! I lost my wallet this week, which won me a free trip into
Villa today. It is a little bit of a bummer, but that is the beauty of this place--you don't even really need money!
I lost my wallet last Friday, and didn't even notice until now.
Anyway, all is well here. We just had our first drop-out of the group (hold your wallets
Ahrens family--it is not us). It was the guy from Pepperdine. I felt pretty bad for him. He basically said
that he came here thinking he was going to a place worse-off than the U.S., and he just doesn't feel like this place is.
I agreed with alot of what he said. I think this place is better off than the U.S. in so many ways. There
is no one hungry or homeless, no suicide, no child-abductions, but I guess I feel like there is still something to be done
here--for us and for them...
Living with the Kennedy's has its advantages and disadvantages--While all the other Papas in the
village are off working in the gardens all day and the other families are dining on fresh pineapple--that you would pay a
fortune for in the states--Our papa goes to work all day to provide us with the better things in life--you know,
like spam...and white rice...and white bread...and tons and tons of white noodles. So while all the other volunteers
are looking all thin and trim, I am just feeling completely bloated. When we got back from Malo, my mama said "Oh you
look too thin" then a few days ago she said "Oh you look fat-fat backagain"--what a relief, eh. I will be glad
to be making my own food choices again very soon.
We also got a cat this week. (So tell Eddie he's an uncle and Molly she's an Aunt) She
is so cute. Brian named her Poison, but I call her Sonny, because I feel it a more suitable name for a little girl kitty.
Brian said she can't be a fierce rat-killer with a name like Sonny, so I said he could call her Poison and I would call her
Sonny for short. She is orange and white and has very blue eyes...but most importantly, she like to eat rats.
I think she will be very happy on Malo...
So, things are good. We appreciate all the encouragement from ya'll. We are missing
everyone for Christmas. Have a great one! We love you all very much!
Mel n Bri
November 22, 2002
"The Party's Over"--Our Site Visit
Well, all of my predictions were wrong. I was a little let down when we learned that
our post is on the island of Malo. I really had my heart set on Tanna for the past couple weeks. I thought it
sounded great with all the custom villages and traditions, but when we got our site announcement packet last week and
it said Malo we were sad for only a short time until we saw a brochure they had enclosed of a "nearby" resort. We figured
we could handle that--so maybe we don't get all the customs, at least we will have a beautiful beach. That brochure
I think was a cruel joke on the part of the Peace Corps because our site has nothing even remotely white, sandy or beachlike
We took a flight from Villa to the Island of Santo on Monday afternoon. The airport
was quite a contrast from the airports in the states--no security checks, no baggage screeners, they didn't even check ID.
We just walked up to the counter with our little hand-written ticket and they let us on. We spent one night
in Santo and then headed off to Malo. We took a truck about 30 minutes out of town to the boat landing for Malo.
It was such a beautiful beach--and then we took a 30 minute boat ride to another beautiful beach-and then we took another
truck to as far away as we could possibly get from any beautiful beach into the thickest, muddiest jungle I have ever
seen- and we stoppped-and this is our new home...I cried for the first 3 days. It wasn't so much the mud and jungle,
it was everything. Our toilet is horrible. Not even a toilet really--a bush toilet (a.k.a. hole in the ground
that you squat over). Our water is a huge uncovered well-which Brian and I like to call our "local mosquito birthing
center." We have rats (I think they might actually just be mice, but the word for rats and mice is the same here).
I think this is the one that really gets me. I have developed this huge rat-phobia. I have had 3 rat nightmares
now--and not just any nightmares...Melfloquin nightmares. You have to have taken the stuff I think to understand. The
dreams you get from the malaria medications are the most vivid you have ever had. One night I actually started screaming
in my sleep because I was dreaming there was a rat in my bed. I have rat panic attacks. Every morning
we would wake up and clean up the rat droppings. Finally on the third night or so I woke up in the middle
of the night and told Brian that I was too high maintanence for the Peace Corps. I could not live like this. I
can go without make-up and I could probably even get over hook-worm or head-lice, but this place was too much.
We sat up and made a list of all the things we would need to make this place liveable--a few cats, rat poison, a new
toilet, a rain-water tank, fly tape...We made another list of all the things we like about the site. It included
things like...Our neighbor kids don't have scabies and we will definately lose weight. We woke up the next morning
and everything changed. It was the first day since we had arrived that it wasn't raining, so they cut the
grass. What a difference it made! It suddenly didn't feel so bush. We left a candle burning all
night and the next day we h found only one rat dropping. The place really started to grow on me. I
really think it is going to be great. It really was never all bad, I think I was just so let down at first. We
didn't come here for the beautiful beach, but when you get here and see how beautiful everything is, it is so hard not to
wish for that. Our school is great...the students have a string band and we go listen to them in the dorms at night-the
kids from the village bring us mangos every morning-we are the only volunteers on the island, so we are like celebrities.
All the kids will huddle around and ask us questioins about America like..."what is the name of your village?" and "we
saw some monkeys in a book once--do you have monkeys in America?" It is very cute-Our manager is great-We have a really cute
custom house and a garden-Our job is going to be awesome. We really feel like there is alot we can do here.
I guess sometimes you just have to "bloom where you are planted"--and everyone knows that the best soil is next to a big,
smelly bush toilet...right?
November 10, 2002
Well....we are back from the bush for a week. We are still in training, so we really have
no home for the time being, but we are loving our little training village. So much has happened, so here are a few highlights........
The Village: We are currently staying in the village of Paunangisu. It is a fairly large
village on the north end of Efate. We arrived on a Wednesday afternoon. We came in vans down the dirt road (sometimes
just down the dirt) and as we started nearing Paunangisu all the children on walking home from school started running
alongside the vans yelling "Peace Corps, Peace Corps." The kids were so cute! We parked on one end of the village
and the chief met us there. He walked us into the village in a single file line and we shook hands with a long line
of all the mamas of the village. They gave us salusalus (leis) and we all sat up on this stage-like thing with all the
village around us. All the kids of the village sang the Vanuatu national anthem, called Unity. We heard a couple
speeches from the chief and a couple other people, and then they announced our host families. Our mamas gave each of
us another salusalu and then we went back to our new homes.
We have no electricity in the village, with the exception of a couple generators the Peace Corps
brought in for the training. We have a few public phones ( and we have a phone in our house). We have some running
water--spickets here and there. The people are the best you would ever meet. They are so sweet.
Our family: Our family is great. We have 4 host brothers and one host sister (so we
both feel very at home) Our papa is the manager of a co-operative store in the next village over, and our mama is sort
of a pastor. Our abuman (grandpa) lives with us, but he mostly just sleeps there and then eats across the street at
his other sons house. He is the cutest little old man. He was 16 when the soldiers came over during WWII and he
is always wanting to tell us stories about the war and the soldiers he became friends with. I can't wait until I understand
a little more of what he is saying. Our youngest brother is 13 and we see him the most. He is very cute.
He just loves Brian. They play baseball together and soccer everyday. Our sister is 16, but she lives in Villa
(the capital) where she goes to high school. Our other brothers are 21, 20 and 18. We see them here and there,
but they don't like to hang out with the family that much--you know how it is. We joke that we are staying with the
Kennedys. They are definatley the wealthiest family in the village. Our papa has an associates degree, which is
very educated. They love the Beattles. Brian and I sleep in our mama and papas room, and they sleep in our little
brothers room. We have a huge poster of John Lennon above our bed.
Brian, the fowl killer: Yes, that's right. He killed us our dinner. It definately
ruined chicken and eggs for me for awhile. Don't worry...we have pictures.
Life in the Village: Life in the village is almost as great as Ellensburg. The
roosters start crowing at about 3. We wake up at about 5 (Brian 5:30) We wait for the bread truck to come up from
Villa. Whenever the bread comes, we eat breakfast. Bread, Papaya and Milo everyday. After breakfast we get
ready for class, do the dishes, and feed the chickens our left over bread and papaya. This is one of my favorite times
of the day. I just love feeding the chickens. They are so hillarious. It is like a big chicken stampede.
They all run over and it is like a feeding frenzy. We have class in the all day until 3. At 3 we come home and
Brian goes out to play while I do all my "womanly" chores around the house with my mama. We have our afternoon tea time,
and then get ready for dinner. Sometimes we wash clothes or something too. After I get good and hot I go to take
my afternoon swim. This is my other favorite part of the day. Our swim house is across the yard. It is a
little cement building. I fill up a bucket and go wash. I absolutely love it. Nothing feels so good.
I am never going back to running water....well, ok. Maybe I will. It is fun though. We eat dinner at 6:30
or so. It gets dark by about 6, so we eat by kerosene lantern. After dinner we go straight to bed. I can't
believe how tired I am by 7:30 at night. We lay in bed and listen to the rats crawling on the ceiling while we fall
asleep. Luckily I haven't seen a rat yet, I have only heard them. I have nightmares about them. If they
are my biggest worry, I figure we are doing all right.
Life in the village moves very slow. It is very fun though. I really have alot of fun
sitting and talking with our mama.
My new wardrobe: I haven't worn pants in a month and I crave them. You should see my
new clothes. You are all going to be so jealous. In the village it is absolutely unheard of for a women to wear
pants or shorts. My mama gave me two dresses. They are both the mother hubbard style. I feel totally rediculous,
but I am getting used to them.
Church: Like I said our mama is a pastor or something, but not all the time. She was
doing the service at a church a few villages over one Sunday and so Brian and I went with her. She really wanted us
to help in the service, so I was a reader, and Brian gave the offering prayer. They were both in Bislama, so our mama
had to write everything out that we needed to say. It was really fun though.
We find out our post this Friday. My new bets are on Tanna, so read up.
Mel n Bri
We made it! We are finally here. This place is amazing. The scenery is so beautiful and the people
are just as beautiful. We are still in the"vacation phase"-- living in the capital eating american food and touring
around. We are leaving for our training village on Wednesday. So far we have snorkeled, drank kava, eaten some
octopus (well one of us did), learned some bislama, and just enjoyed this tropical paradise. As nice as all of this
is, we are excited to really get to know the people and do our job. Life is so good!!