A Thoroughly Modern Ni-Van Woman

When you get accepted into Peace Corps, everyone wants to know if you'll be living in a hut. "Send pictures of your hut!" I was excited for it, even. To become fearless in the face of bugs and spiders. To cook over fire. Vanuatu was described as "one of the most remote placements" you can receive in Peace Corps. So it's funny to find myself where I am.

Here's a picture of my "hut":

And here I am, "cooking over a fire":

This is what life looks like at my new post, the biggest primary school in Vanuatu, on the island of Espiritu Santo.

While other volunteers are clearing swaths of bush to plant gardens, I'm working with a few small beds around my house, not much bigger than my community garden plot back in Baltimore. I pick up my produce from a farmer's market, and staples from the grocery store downtown. I have a cat to chase away the few mice, and can't get lazy about washing the dishes or the roaches will come. I'm paranoid about catching lice from the students I'm working with, all of whom are such infectiously vivacious little humans that they make it well-worth the risk. My list of parallels to life back home in Baltimore is so long it's uncanny, especially when I think about how coming here, I was trying to slip into something new. A fellow volunteer who'd never left the country before said it best:

"I came here expecting to see how different everything is, but mostly I'm noticing all the things that are the same."

I like to make the joke that I've slipped into the life of a Thoroughly Modern Ni-Van Woman. I get tips from my neighbors on how I can grate a bunch of manioc or coconut and freeze half for later. I'm told to scrub my pots with steel wool instead of sand, to bake my laplap in the oven instead of over stones. When we talk about relationships, the younger teachers assure me that these days it's okay to break up with a boyfriend and date someone else. On sports day, some of them wear t-shirts with slogans from the Vanuatu Women's Centre: "Vaelens Agensem ol Woman ino Kastom Blong Mi"–Violence against women isn't my custom.

I came to Vanuatu expecting to experience small-village life, to spend long hours growing and preparing food, "storying" with the people in my village, and short ones rallying a handful of teachers in a few small school buildings. Instead, I find myself working with the largest number of students at any school in the country, with a group of teachers who deftly navigate the space between traditional and modern life here. I find myself surrounded by, truly, the vanguard of Vanuatu's development. And here, on this blog, I'll try to give a window into how all this unfolds. Wish me luck!

Always with love,
Sydney Nicole

For anyone wanting a peek at a more rural experience in Vanuatu, please check out some of my friends' sites! Frances, Melissa, Annalisa, Emma, Ted, and Taylor's are all linked here, to share just a few.

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