Johnas and I had made arrangements to travel together to stay overnight in his village, Namoru. Ni – Vanuatu sometimes refer to time as “white man time” when making arrangements to meet, so I was delighted when Johnas arrived on time. I appreciated his thoughtfulness.
I had travelled the road past Namoru a couple of times on previous visits to South Santo with World Vision, so was prepared for the regularity of the potholes. Major roadworks had occurred over the past 12 months or so, making access for many villages along the South Santo area, back into Luganville a little easier. By western standards, it’s still rough, but to locals is a welcome improvement.
My welcome by Johnas’ family in Namoru was overwhelming. His entire family gathered in the kitchen house – a large traditionally built room with earth floor where the fire pit was situated, with the other half of the building bearing a concrete floor. The entrance and rafters were adorned with local flowers. Within the village each family has their own kitchen house which they share for cooking, eating and just being.
The children from the family gave me leis of flowers and foliage. Mum (Johnas’ mother) presented me with two finely woven pandanus mats. (The following day I witnessed Mum weaving her current project and was astounded to see how many strands of pandanus fronds she was working with at any one time – there would have to have been about 80 or so strands). The feast followed the welcome – aelen kakae (island food) in the form of bunya – chicken, yam, taro and sweet potato, lightly dotted with fresh coconut cream, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over hot rocks. The result is absolutely delicious, the smoky flavours penetrating the starchy vegetables. Everyone joined in but Johnas and I were given a table to sit at while everyone else sat on the floor on pandanus mats, as is the usual habit.
Football World Cup fever had taken over Vanuatu whilst I was visiting and in Namoru, it was no different. As I wandered around the village with Johnas and an ever increasing group of pikinini (children), I noticed that the men of the village were getting ready for a football game. The game commenced in a large field near the entrance to the village. At least 30 to a side, men playing in bare feet, with the odd one or two wearing football boots, but they were few and far between. Football boots are a definite luxury. The game continued for an hour or more, with the pikinini mimicking the game on the sidelines with their own games.
Darkness began to fall and out came the mosquitoes, so despite the temperature, it was necessary to wear my jeans to protect my skin from those small but annoying beasts! The evening was spent sitting with the family in the kitchen house, pikinini fascinated with the ipad and the many photos of both New Zealand and Vanuatu. As the pikinini tired of the day, they simply fell asleep on the floor and parents continued to sit and storian (talking).
Sunday is a definite rest day and a day of worship for most in the village. One of Johnas’ sisters approached me with a Mamma Hubbard dress and suggested I wear that to church. The entire service was in bislama so I was at a disadvantage in understanding what the enthusiastic preacher was saying, but some of the tunes of the songs were familiar, so I sung in English, much to the amusement of the pikinini sitting around me. The preacher indicated to me to come to the front of the church and explain the reason for my visit. I apologised that I was able to tell my story in only one language, but Johnas came to my rescue immediately afterwards and retold the story in bislama. Learning a language is not my strong point, but I was feeling decidedly inadequate amongst many people who spoke at least 4 languages fluently!
After the church service, a small ceremony was made to welcome me to the Women’s House. As part of my preparations for this solo trip, I had asked one of the villagers (Jimmy) who had lived and worked in New Zealand under the RSE scheme if it would be appropriate to give a gift to the community when staying in Namoru. He had given my request a lot of thought and had said that the Women’s House really needed a solar panel. The Women’s House is a solidly built building, with funding from AusAid. Comprising of three rooms that can be used by guests to stay overnight, a large communal room and 2 store rooms. The floors are concrete and roof is iron, which would be helpful for water collection.
Sometimes there was solar electricity available there, but not always as the existing solar panel was often moved onto other buildings such as the school when needed. So armed with a solar panel purchased in Luganville, Johnas and I accompanied by Jimmy and his fellow RSE worker who I had also met in New Zealand, ZsaZsa – we were the guests of honour. Warmly welcomed by some of the older village women, preacher and his assistant and Chief’s son, Ernest (the Chief wasn’t in the village that weekend). Pikinini surrounded the building peering in through the louvered windows. I was presented with a bunya and asked to place my hands on the large banana leaf wrapped parcel. I reciprocated with the gift giving and explained in English why I was staying in the village – that they are the farmers that grow and harvest the coconuts for our Virgin Coconut Oil. I also presented the Chief’s son with a jar of Lav Kokonas Virgin Coconut Oil so he could see how we present “their” oil for sale in New Zealand. Ernest seemed quite amused by the gift.
The delicious feast followed with guests eating first then the women enjoyed the mountain of food that was still leftover. A small rest sitting with the family in the kitchen house before being escorted by Johnas and Jimmy’s families to the truck that would take us back to Luganville – that is, after the flat tyre is sorted out. 1 1/2 hours and we were back in Luganville. I felt very sad to say goodbye to Johnas and his cousin John the driver and Ernest, who was heading back into town to be at his job at Matevulu College the next day. It was a short visit but very moving for me. A connection of the heart had been made, not only with Johnas but with his disabled father and many of “our” farmers. What an experience