Monday, June 10, 2013

Tanna: Shaking the Earth

I have returned to Vanuatu from China after being held up in Brisbane, Australia for two days. During my last few days in Beijing, I wanted to stay there. I was not looking forward to my return, and not just because my house there does not have electricity. Being in China, I realized how much I thrive in urban environments and how frustrating certain aspects of Melanesian culture can be. I did not want to go back to the invasive questions and the irresponsibility in the culture. I realized how tired I am of hearing people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s use excuses for misbehavior and breaking integrity that 8-year-olds would use in most countries, such as “I was tired” or “I forgot.” Chinese culture, as with most cultures in the world, attempts to hold people responsible for their actions. While no culture does this perfectly, Vanuatu does not even try very hard. Law enforcement is a joke here. Villages have no system of reprimanding or castigating people, even for transgressions such as murder and child molestation. They rely on volunteers to conduct projects exactly the way they want them to without listening to the volunteers' viewpoints and then expect the volunteers to do all the work themselves. I have heard stories of people committing arson in villages and rationalizing it by saying “I was angry.” I believe this is an aspect of the culture that must change is the Peace Corps is to remain in Vanuatu. If it is does not change, Peace Corps should make its exit. I also realized that while I had no interest in quitting in the Peace Corps early, extending my service is out of the question. My new plan after I finish the Peace Corps is to move to Istanbul, Turkey, one of my favorite cities, plus a major international transportation hub that spans two continents, making international travel there relatively easy, especially compared to Vanuatu. But I digress. When I returned to Port Vila, I met with my brothers and the next day, boarded a flight to the island of Tanna. This had been the one island I always knew I wanted to visit. We were greeted by Morris, the bungalow owner, who taught us some words in his vernacular language and took us to his bungalow in the middle of the Imayo rainforest. I was so happy to meet a ni-Van man who not only was very kind and hospitable, but also ran a successful business, proving that Melanesians can take responsibility for their choices, communities, and families. We saw a beautiful kastom dance and a waterfall, but the highlight was certainly Mt. Yasur, the active volcano that borders the rainforest. When it erupts, the whole ground vibrates and feels like the earth is shaking. It is unnerving and a totally unique experience. I have now seen two volcanoes here in Vanuatu, and both are experiences I will never forget. I will also never forget how kind and trustworthy Morris was, always available for whatever we needed during our four days at his bungalow. I hope others will learn from his example. I have always said that if there is one lesson ni-Vans can take from volunteers, it is that we are responsible for our lives: our choices, our communities, our families, our world. We cannot pin our responsibilities on anyone else. Now I see that ni-Vans can learn it from each other as well.

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