April 30, 2010


While this isn't strictly a Growing Up Island post, if you're new here and a little confused things might make more sense if you go here for an overview of growing up as a missionary kid in Vanuatu.

In one week Dad is heading over to Vanuatu for about 3 weeks. He is researching the story of one of the students who came to Talua when we were there so that he can write a book about it. The student has one of the most amazing conversion stories, having come from one of the cargo cults on Tanna (the John Frum movement), training at Talua and then going back to his village where amazing things happen. I can’t wait to hear from Dad all that he hears when he is over there. And I’m sure the book will be fantastic! (I may be a little biased).

I’d love to be going over with him, though it’s not really appropriate (and there is a little thing called uni I need to be concentrating on). Though I don’t really envy him the 10 days living in a village.

When we explain that we grew up in Vanuatu most people assume that we lived in a village. They imagine grass huts, beautiful sandy beaches and coconut trees. While there were a lot of coconut trees, and the beaches were beautiful (though full of black volcanic sand, rather than the white sand you see in some parts of the country) we never lived in a hut. Living at the college was different to living in a village.

We had windows, and concrete walls. There were fly screens on all windows and doors so we didn’t have to sleep under mosquito nets. We had a kitchen inside, with an oven and a gas powered fridge. And we had a bathroom inside with a shower (as well as a bucket shower dad rigged up so we could boil water and have warm showers) and a flushing toilet.

If we had lived in a village things would have been different. The kitchen would be a standalone structure, with a fire to cook on. The house would have had bamboo walls, with a thatched roof and holes for door and windows. You would bathe in the nearest river, or have bucket showers within a small thatched room that had a tap. And there would have been a communal pit toilet.

We didn’t go to villages often. Dad may have gone more, but when the kids and wives went it was normally as part of mission Sunday, where groups from Talua would go out to villages and lead the service.

I hate to admit it now, but I really hated going to villages. I was shy and hated people staring. I learnt early on to always have my hair in braids so that it wasn’t pulled. I would often be surrounded by a sea of women and girls who would sit and stroke my skin. For someone who likes to blend in and hide away, it’s just not possible being the only white girl with long red hair for miles around. As such I didn’t initiate play; I didn’t run around with the local children. I sat with my parents and students and stared back at the other kids.

But when I went back on the mission trip, something had changed. We went over to Araki, a small island just off Santo (where Talua is) and spent the day in a village there. I was ashamed of the way the other people in the team kept diving for the disinfectant gel, and the way the boys and girls sat together on the same mat.

So I moved off and sat with some of the village girls who were watching us. I pulled out enough of my rusty Bislama to have conversations. We chatted and laughed and danced to the string band and I realised that girls are pretty much the same the world over. I felt more at home in a village that day than I ever had before.
That’s not to say that it wasn’t without awkward moments (there were only enough plates in the village for the mission people to eat, so everyone in the village sat around and watched us eat). But I did survive a trip to the ‘smol house’. And I felt genuinely sad at the end of the day to be going back to Talua.

But I can understand Dad’s nervousness about spending so many nights in a village by himself. I’ll be praying for him each day. And being so, so grateful for our flushing toilet.

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