June 10, 2012

Redefining wet (6/8/12)

 Being a desert person, moving to the pacific islands has been quite the experience. Obviously even without constant rain the humidity here is stifling. The minute you step out of the plane into Vanuatu you feel like you're breathing over a pot of boiling water. I was never too bothered by hot days in Tucson as long as it wasn't monsoon season. 100 degree dry heat really is nothing compared to 85 with humidity. This is something that after almost 2 years of living in Vanuatu still catches me by surprise at times. The first and best example being when I had first arrived on maewo I would notice that if my house had been cool through the day my bed sheets were often wet with condensation as I would climb into them at night. This happens sometimes when you're out camping and its becoming cold at night. In vanuatu this happens all well above 75 degrees farenheit. The next shocking difference was when I was away from site for a week during new years during my very first year. I came home to find all the clothes that i'd hung up in my house covered in mold. One of my tshirts was molded so badly that it became my snot rag due to how badly it had rotted in the week that it was hung up in my house. After that I realized that my clothes needed to be thrown outside in the hot sun at least once every couple weeks or so, otherwise the cotton shirts might not make it through two years.
It was a source of constant annoyance for me as a desert dweller and it wasnt until roughly the start of my second year of service that I came to an acceptance of the issue. We were having a particularly long rainy period (about 3 weeks where I didnt see the sun once) and I was running out of clean clothes so I finally did my was in the rain and hung them up under my roof to dry. The next day passed and all of the clothes were still wet enough that if I tried really hard I could still wring a bit of water out of them. The second day passed and I was re-wearing my last piece of non-washed clothes and the clothes still felt wet to the touch. The third day came and after three days straight of wearing the same clothes I finally came to accept the fact that clothes that you couldnt actually wring any water out of were going to have to be considered dry enough and worn. Acceptance is definitely the correct word choice in this circumstance because I will never acclimate to wearing damp clothing as being normal.
My most recent realization and what prompted me to post this blog was a science experiment I attempted with the year 7 students at the school. Everyone knows the classic saturate a solution with salt or sugar, hang a rope in it and leave it in the sun for the water to evaporate and crystals form on the rope experiment right? Well guess what on Maewo, it doesnt work. One gloriously sunny day, I had the students pair up and saturate a 250ml beaker half filled with water using either salt or sugar. Afterwards they wrote their names on them and sat them outside under the sun. It was a nice and toasty day so I assumed that if we left them there through the day that afternoon we'd be able to start seeing some crystals forming. The students came back after lunch and we went to check. If any evaporation had occurred it was imperceptible. Not to be let down I told the students to leave them and we'd check them each day so we could record the progress of the crystals growing. After the second day, there were still no crystals at all. The third day only of the beakers had any crystal growth evident. By the fourth day two of the beakers now had some crystal growth and since it was the end of the week, I called the experiment. In 4 days of constant sun the most water that had evaporated out of any of the beakers was 90ml. It was quite shocking to me as a single hot day of tucson you'd likely to be able to get a few liters of water evaporated, on Maewo you'd be lucky to get 100ml's evaporated.

Sorry its been so long since i posted up a story!

I feel i've neglected in my duties of putting up stories every time i've had internet. A large part of this was due to a story i wrote recently that was pretty negative and i decided not to post it and this made me not want to write for a little. I will be fairly busy travelling through new zealand for the next 10 days but i will do my best to type of some of the stories i've written over the past 4 months and post them up.

February 12, 2012

A Windy Welcome (2/6/12)

My time in the States was great and if anything it has made me look forward more to when I finally get to come home to all my friends and family, but now I was back to my island life again. And what a welcome the islands have given me. Within a day of my arrival on Maewo the rain started. It kept raining for the first four days straight, which was something i'd come to expect by now, but then the wind began picking up too on the 5th day. By the night of the 5th day my dad and I were taking down all of the iron roofing in the area so the wind didnt start throwing it around the village. “What's the peace corps office say? This is a hurricane right?” He kept asking me. I told him i'd ask but I hadn't heard anything. Sure enough they said just some tropical lows and depressions but no hurricanes. This weather continued on for another week. Rain being blown into my house through my walls, everything slowly becoming wet and moldy. I was really hoping to wash my clothes before I had to go back to training but it was looking like the chances of them being washed and dry before training were going away. And then on Thursday only 4 days before I was supposed to go to training the sun broke through and smiled on us. I was thinking to myself that the weather was done, i'd get some days of sun and then get in to my training just fine. Vanuatu had other plans unfortunately. Friday night it started raining again and becoming windy. This time the peace corps office did report a hurricane south of the Solomon islands heading towards Vanuatu. So resigned to likely missing my monday flight I hung out and waited through the weekend.
Sunday came and Nik showed up as we were both supposed to travel in to Vila the next day. We called the peace corps office and they said that the hurricane from the solomon islands missed vanuatu but the water was still too rough and we were all on standfast. So now Nik and I both began hanging out waiting and hoping the weather got better by wednesday so we could travel in to Vila. Monday we called the office and asked for an update. They said that there was now a new hurricane called jasmine that was currently a category 3 and headed straight for Vila out of the west so there wouldnt be any flights on wednesday. Nik and I knew now that friday was the earliest and best we could hope for to get in to Vila. Thursday came and the storms had passed and flights were resuming so when we call the office to ask about us getting in to vila they let us know that the friday flights were full but they were going to do an extra one on saturday that we were both scheduled to come in on. By this point I had entirely missed the training that they were bringing me in for anyways. Worried that maybe i'd be expected to pick up my own room at a hotel when I came in since my training was done, I talked with Sara. Luckily during this training a small part of it was about us closing our services in October which they had to talk to me about so I was guaranteed to come in either way to make sure they could talk to me. Having not even been back on Maewo for a month the weather had already worked to trap me for an extra week. Now the hope is that I will be able to get in to Vila and out again before the next set of hurricanes comes through and makes everyone stuck again. I certainly have become complacent about the weather. Last year I remember being worried every time the iron roofing in the village started rattling from wind, this year two coconut trees were knocked over by the wind before I decided that there had to be a hurricane in the area haha. On the bright side it had made what is usually the hottest time of the year a bit cooler, not to mention during the really big winds its like my house has a mister system installed.

December 15, 2011

Bearded Women (12/07/11)

The past week has been exceedingly slow as everyone is starting to take breaks from their busy work schedules (not busy at all, even the busiest people probably only put in about 15 legitimate hours of work a week on Maewo) and begun "spelling" since its almost christmas time. Going from only working on a house or something about one or two days a week to not working at all cause its christmas time, kava drinking and card playing has taken over for everyone. While i have no objections to drinking kava most nights with other people in my village, i tend to get bored of playing cards for days upon end. The only card game anyone ever plays is a game they call 7-lock which is played with a regular 52 card deck and is a bit like uno but there is minor betting involved. The game can be really fun for the first hour or two you learn it and start playing it, but here it is taken to excess, they play from the time they wake up until 1 or 2 o clock in the morning and then get up to do it again the next day at 6am.
Now you may be wondering what all of this has to do with the title of the post? I was bored as hell so i decided to make a bunch of kava drinking shells to pass my time, which led me to a trip up to one of the coconut plantations. I went with my mom and we collected 25 coconuts that are longer than normal coconuts that we would be cut and cleaning into nice drinking shells. After collecting them we passed through a lone housing area that i'd only been to a few times and for the first time since coming to vanuatu i met on of my bubus (grandmas). She is not the bearded lady of the story, but the reason i'd yet to meet her despite living about a 10 minute walk from her house for a whole year was that she rarely left her house because she can't walk due to the number of boils on her legs. So i shake hands with her and then she turns to my mom and asks in local language, "ian na fafnai?" in local language ian is he/she its not gender specific so roughly translate: he/she a woman? After hearing my bubu ask my mom this i was slightly confused because i thought she was talking about me but i was positive that i had to have misunderstood and that my bubu was just talking about someone else or something else that i was following. Finally the two of them stop talking and my mom and i are walking back down to my house so i ask my mom to confirm what i thought i'd heard. My mom starts laughing immediately and says that i had heard right my bubu was asking if i was a woman. This had to be the most surprised i've been in a long, long time. Here i am with a huge rice bag filled with 25 coconuts, my shorts are covered in mud, and i have a beard that hasnt seen a razor or scissors in 6 months. Still convinced that i couldnt possibly have been mistaken for a woman i asked my mom if her eyesight was poor. My mom said no her eyesight was fine the reason she thought i was a woman was because i had my hair in a pony tail. I asked my mom how she could see that i had a pony tail and not notice the fact that my beard is like 4 inches long and my mom shrugged and said, "sam woman penecost igat mustash olsem yu." Never in my life did i think that i would be mistaken for being a woman, much less while sporting a beard longer than the average man's head hair, but apparently on pentecost island there are woman that justify this gender confusion. Glad i live on Maewo!

November 14, 2011

Back in Cyclone Season (11/8/11)

 So cyclones are better known to most of the world as hurricanes and in Vanuatu they're not a bad weather system, they're a part of life. November being officially the start of hurricane season in this area of the pacific it becomes a regular occurrence that low pressure systems start building up and floating around bringing ridiculous amounts of rain as well as quite a bit of wind. The majority of these low pressure systems never develop into full hurricanes but the change in the weather is unmistakable. The few days before hand everything becomes still, hot, humid, and quiet as if in anticipation of what is to come. Then at some point the wind starts again and within hours it becomes a strong gusty wind and rain starts coming down in a constant drizzle. This continues to strengthen and within an hour or two the wind is blowing the rain horizontally through windows and the rain itself is starting to come down as if someone was dumping buckets of water on a movie set. It keeps up this angry weather until its spent all of its rain like a child throwing a temper tantrum. This is just a low pressure system. Welcome to Vanuatu! Just yesterday the first low pressure system of our 2011-12 cyclone season came. As the wind began to pick up I asked our safety and security officer what the weather report was. Small low pressure system south of Vanuatu, expect wind and rain for the next few days. I told her I hoped it settled down in time for the two current Peace Corps trainees to get a chance to come visit my site. Her reply was a text message that read: Vanuatu has been ranked first as most hazardous country in the world risk report of 2011 done by the U.N.. Having been here for a year now and experienced a decent share of Vanuatu's temperament, I found that hard to believe. After considering it for a while though it started to make more sense to me. If another country were regularly hit with the types of natural disasters that Vanuatu gets it would seem apocalyptic. The US is a fantastic example of this. The east coast received an earthquake that cause major power outages and millions of dollars worth of damage. The power of that earthquake is what Vanuatu gets on a monthly basis. The hurricane that flooded and ruined Queensland, Australia, payed its dues to Vanuatu before proceeding. It is a country that has developed a lifestyle aimed at existing in just the right manner to deal with all of these disasters. As it becomes more developed these rules are slowly changing and it might not be long before Vanuatu starts having larger problems with its natural disasters, but for the time being on islands such as Maewo, many people live in this way. Most people build their houses up in the jungle to avoid tsunami's, they build in areas that are concave to reduce the amount of wind that hits them during a hurricane, they build away from flood zones that the constant rains and hurricanes can cause, the build houses out of bamboo lashed together with vines that aren't the least bit bothered by an earthquake. They exist in large communities with strong ties to each other. They laugh often and live in the moment. Planning for the future is an almost alien concept with the weather unpredictable and even the islands themselves molded by storms. The weather can be hard when you have a schedule so better to just live by the weather rather than a piece of paper. It has certainly been a novel experience for me after living in Tucson, never having felt an earthquake, run from a tsunami, or hid in a house during a hurricane. One thing that all of this has taught me is to appreciate the sunny days, because you just never know when your roof might fly away!