Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Today is my penultimate day in Vanuatu. On Friday I board an early flight to Sydney in order to embark on a long spiritual journey across Southeast Asia(Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia). My last days in my village were filled with kava, family meals, and farewells. The process of selling the items in my house was onerous. I felt like every other sentence out of any villager's mouth was an inquiry about what I was selling, for how much, and what I could give away. One woman wandered into my house while I was selling a mattress without my permission and laughed at me when I reprimanded her for it. But still, I was sorry to be leaving. Leaving, I feel a strong sense of accomplishment and relief. Peace Corps would not be in Vanuatu if the country was perfect. The culture of Vanuatu turned out to be far more frustrating than I thought it would be going in. The lack of accountability, constant "yu go wea?" inquiries, and complacency for assimilation to the status quo have been arduous to handle. However, I must believe the culture can evolve and learn to ameliorate these circumstances. I have been impressed by the resourcefulness of many people I have met and hope this resourcefulness can be combined with responsibility in order to construct a better Vanuatu. I have often said, "If there's one lesson Ni-Vans can take from volunteers, it's that you are responsible for your life and the lives of those you care about." Ni-Vans, like people from any other culture, cannot hope to succeed so long as they refuse to do this. I am quite happy to be leaving, since I am leaving these frustrations behind. Still, leaving Vanuatu requires letting go, delegating my various projects and knowledge to them, and hoping they can prove themselves. It requires confidence in the people of Vanuatu. It requires a leap of faith. Many of my friends have opted to extend another year. I did not even consider this option because I knew I wanted to find work in Istanbul. I wonder if some of those who have extended have done so out of fear of returning. I understand the trepidation. Beginning a new chapter in one's life is daunting. I also understand not wanting to delegate the projects we have invested so much energy, time, passion, and resources in to a culture with no system of accountability. But this is what all Peace Corps Volunteers must do at some point. We must let go. It's a necessary risk, and one that I must believe will be rewarded. In Buddhism, it is said that the greatest gift one can give another is one's true presence, just being there. No material possession could ever compare. I have to believe that I have made an impact just by being myself in a culture centered around conformity. We can't accomplish anything through affectation. We must be authentic to who we are, and hope this authenticity will initiate change in the world. I hope the nation of Vanuatu will ruminate on its position in the international community and try to learn from other countries. This will be difficult, being such an isolated nation, but not impossible with today's technological advancements. I hope Vanuatu will recognize the value of diversity and allow more space for it. I hope Vanuatu will accept the importance of responsibility and learn to reward constructive behavior and punish destructive behavior. I hope Vanuatu will learn the appreciate the efforts of volunteers and work in solidarity with them, instead of expecting them to do all the work while they maintain full control of the work, as my headmaster did and has happened to many other volunteers. I hope Vanuatu will learn the art of confrontation and venture into the 21st Century instead of hiding from the spotlight, which I saw time and time again. (This could be one reason why so few have heard of Vanuatu). If not, I am not opposed to Peace Corps leaving Vanuatu, but I can't get bogged down by that mindset. And now that I am about to leave, that challenge is becoming easier and easier. Instead, I must let go. It's up to them now. As the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh says, "Looking with the eyes of compassion, offering a peaceful step. These are gestures of peace and nonviolence we can offer every day. Speak peacefully, walk peacefully, think peacefully, and your peace will radiate out in all directions."