Above the leaves a parade of white clouds march slowly by, dissipating and shape shifting. I lay beneath the shadows of coconut fronds as the sun turns the crisp green leaves of a near shore tree into plates of glimmering emerald. The afternoon sun warms my skin as the cool ocean breeze keeps the salty air fresh. I sit up and look at the vastness of the South Pacific Ocean. To my left, I can barely make out the feint shape of Ambae and to the right the sun beats down on the ocean, a golden oasis.
I’ve come to the beach to grade mid year tests for my 6th graders. It’s amazing to read through their tests and see the traces of proofreading, indents, and concluding sentences. Seeing a tangible affect on these kids is almost better than my current view. My favorite days here so far have been the days when I see Edmon, one of the smartest and also the youngest sixth grader, walking down the path to school, backpack in tow. I stop storying with an old grandmother, sing out to him, and ask him where he is going; his big smile reaches from ear to ear. He is looking for me to assign him extra homework because he’s already finished the essay I assigned a few days before. He has no idea that he has made my year.
This morning, I woke up as the sun began to peek over the lush green hills decorated by brilliant pacific vegetation. Going outside to my tiny one man bush kitchen, I began the battle of trying to start a fire. I follow the advice of one of my fourth graders and light the dry coconut leaves first. Finally after the 5th match, the leaves catch fire and go out immediately, 5 more matches and I say, “Fuck it, I’m getting the lighter.” When the coconut leaves finally light, I place them into the fire pit surrounded by large pieces of broken coral. Slowly. I stack larger pieces of dried burao onto the fire. My eyes tear as the smoke encapsulates the 3 ft by 4 ft “kitchen” I fan vigorously with the half woven coconut leaf fan my neighbor weaved for me (luckily since then, one of my best friends, Floria—a 12 year old girl—has brought me the two most useful things in my kitchen a nice and working fan made of coconut leaves and a plastic bottle). The most satisfying part of using a bush kitchen is when the damn fire finally starts after about 30 minutes of battling and you can finally start the next hour of cooking. As my water boils for some coffee, I walk across the school grounds—the sun peaks over silhouetting towers of coconut trees, Nbanga trees, nbanyan trees, popo trees. Sunshine bursts through the trees and everything glows, illuminated by the glorious morning light.
I walk into the bush by the ocean to look out for some breakfast. I’m having navara today or water of coconut when it has dried completely and turns into a yellow ball of spongy-sweet goodness. Balancing four large coconuts in my arms, I walk back to my kitchen. I check the water and the fire; everything is as I left it—water still flat and not boiled. I reach out the side of my kitchen to the popo tree and twist off a green popo with streaks of orange on its belly. I slice it open as it’s skin oozes a white sticky cream. Cutting the first of 5 pieces, I scoop out the popo’s beady black eyes. Ahh I sigh as I take the first bite while sitting on the little stool I found in my yard. The milky orange popo melts in my mouth and perfect timing- the water boils.
I pour myself of instant mix nestle coffee—god I miss good coffee (luckily, my Da Gu Yi aka aunt has sent me individual packets of Starbucks coffee. ITS AMAZING THANK YOU!!). As I let it cool, I grab my bush knife and begin hacking away at the navara. I beat it with what feels like a very dull bush knife about 20 times until a callous forms underneath my right pinky. I drop my bush knife and begin prying with all my might. Finally, I rip off the husk of the coconut. It’s already broken, so I cut out a piece of white flesh and the silky meat fills my mouth. I take a sip of my coffee and reflect on my life as it is now.
I am serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer, living on the beautiful Where the Wild Things Are-esque island of Maewo, spending the next two years of my life in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. I could live here forever, I love it all. I finish my breakfast, head to church, and spend a relaxing day with my family.
From July 19,2015