Tuesday, November 15, 2011
I have arrived on the island of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu for my host volunteer visit. Here I have viewed classrooms and hiked through forests and waterfalls. The more time I spend here, the more ambivalent I become. Like every other place in the world, Vanuatu is full on contradictions. People have approached me offering food, kind words, and a willingness to speak to me in English, even though I am now mostly comfortable with Bislama (as long as people speak it slowly). However, the treatment of animals here has appalled me. Dogs and cats are attacked with stones and even large bush knives. The other volunteers have told me this is something I will need to become accustomed to, something that will not change anytime soon. I also have been enjoying an herbal drink with narcotic effects known as kava. Kava is consumed mostly at small establishments called nakamals. It is served in coconut shells, has an earthy taste, and causes the mouth to go numb, the legs to wobble, the nerves to relax, and sometimes nausea if one drinks too much. Since it can also make sensitive to bright light and loud noises, nakamals are usually dark and quiet spaces. They say the more you drink it, the stronger the effect and the more vile the taste. There are also many different varieties. Some varieties I can drink two or three shells and feel nothing but tranquil. Others I will drink one shell and suddenly feel nauseous. Driving under the influence of kava is just as destructive as alcohol, and has become a problem in Vanuatu. Kava reflects the contradictions here, as it relaxes people, yet contributes to the chaos in the country, as well as to sexism. Women in many areas of Vanuatu are forbidden from drinking it, and sometimes even looking at it. However, it is also a force that unites Ni-Vanuatus and expatriates like me.