I’ve always known I’ve wanted to join the Peace Corps having only the knowledge that I’d get to travel and help people– not fully understanding what it encompassed. I didn’t realize how close I’d get to the people I started my service with and the many friends I’d make along the way. Three crazy intense months of training interrupted by a category 5 cyclone, being constantly balls hot, getting evacuated to Australia, and having to change sites solidified the love and support we had as a PC family. So when it was time to go one one to the islands, I didn’t think it was possible to feel as close to anyone else as to those initial people.
It was nerve racking yet exciting to finally begin the real PC journey. After flying and taking an hour long boat ride to get to Maewo, I was nervous as hell to go on shore and see where the heck I was going to be spending the next two years of my life. Waiting in a truck, Emily and Phil seemed so sure of themselves, so comfortable, and so good at Bilsama, but man I was and am still so thankful for their company when first arriving. They had been there for a year already and showed me the reigns. No one knew I was arriving that day in my village and the truck dropped me off at my family’s– “hello… Dad.. I’m your new child!”
During my first month at Naone, there was a huge kastom event going on. A woman’s ceremony which hadn’t taken place in my village in over a hundred years was going to happen and everyone was busy preparing for the event. I felt a little out of place and VERY awkward, as always. The women of Naone were to spend 5 days in a special thatched bamboo house where they don’t shower for five days. The girls who hadn’t already made kastom couldn’t walk/ move during the whole time. If they wanted to eat, the women who already made kastom would feed them. If they had to go to the toilet, a woman would take them. To kick off the five day event, the women and girl danced: boobies out, wearing pandanus skirts, brilliant red hibiscuses bleeding against their jet black hair/ white gold manes. They painted their faces red and black, clubbed a pig dead, dancing and singing in front of over 400 men. Shit was in-f**king-tense.
With all the women busy, I felt kinda lost and dreadful especially since my first site was going to be on a mile long island with the most magical sunsets, white sand beach, and 27 children. It was rainy, muddy, and dreary on Maewo and I felt a twinge of disappointment. Enter Vannylyn. She had a baby boy who was breast feeding so she couldn’t take part of the kastom because it would be tabu. Bonnie, who has the most beautiful, charming smile and glowing eyes captured my heart instantly. Vanny would invite me over and I’d ask her about the different people in the village, about the kastom and we’d story over taro or lapalap. All the meanwhile, her three sons would be running around, screaming in local language, and hitting each other in the most brotherly of ways.
Lenga’s two front teeth had just fallen out, his skinny arms, round ol head, and massive eyes were decorated with this big gap toothed smile that just made me laugh. Besong, my absolute love, would belt out this one song and do a crazy truffle shuffle, blinking his big eyes in exaggerated innocence, chubby cheeks bulging as he smiled his half guilty smile before breaking out in pure joyful laughter. Ngoto, Vanny’s only girl was taking part of kastom, but she’s the most devious little thing who whispers when she talks and always skips across the field by her house with girly childless.
Vanny’s kids were a big part of how we got so close. But also, she was the first to make me feel connected to this little village, in the middle of a little known country, in an even littler known island. She was one of the main reasons why I decided not to go back to my original site. Why would I leave when I was lucky enough to have a best friend?
The months passed, and we grew closer. I confide in her in things I would never tell anyone else and ask her questions that may be inappropriate to others. The best part is that this year we co-teach class one together. Working with the new literacy curriculum, storing with Vanny, and seeing the kids who’ve repeated class one 2,3,4 times get it is what gets me going in the mornings.
One of my favorite kids who has repeated class one 4 times already could not write any of his letters, couldn’t repeat a letter even though i just told him what it was literally a second ago, now knows and recognizes letter names, and letter sounds. He’s also one of the first to throw his hand up to answer a question during class. I’ll never forget last year when I’d ask him “Grenny, yu kat how mas yia?” he’d reply with the most knowing crooked tooth grin, “Mi kat 3 yia.” I’d die laughing because he definitely was not 3, but he was so sure of himself it was adorable.
I couldn’t be more blessed to be on Maewo.