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.


  1. You are confirming my earlier decision not to join the Peace Corps and go to a humid, isolated island for two and half years! Wearing damp clothes sounds so awful - and add the smell of mold - whew! Hope you and Stephanie are having a nice time together. I am amazed you have done almost two years there - you can count down to "re-entry." I am sure you have heard the Cocinas story from your parents - it was fun even though not ideal! Take care - we think of you a lot! Peg and Pete

  2. It’s never too early to think about the Third Goal. Check out Peace Corps Experience: Write & Publish Your Memoir. Oh! If you want a good laugh about what PC service was like in a Spanish-speaking country back in the 1970’s, read South of the Frontera: A Peace Corps Memoir.