Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cool beans

Do "the kids" even use that phrase any more?!?

We love our life in the village, and one reason is the food we eat.  I recently watched the documentary "Food, Inc." and realized how fortunate we are to live where we do.  For example, in our own little yard we have green beans, papaya, pumpkins, mangoes and soursop growing (I am anxiously awaiting our first crop of lemons - probably a few more years away).  I find it so cool that we literally walk out of the house, pick the ripe produce, bring it in the house, and cook/eat it.

Besides those items, we have very generous neighbors who share with us from their gardens.  We enjoy fresh pineapple, yams, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, spring onions, coconuts, corn, peanuts, peppercorns, and watermelons.  Free-range eggs and grass-fed beef are the norm in Vanuatu.  Wanna come visit and try some?

Green beans on the vine

Recently planted peppers (protected from the cat and chickens)

Papaya almost ready

Soursop ready to be picked

Pumpkin - tastes great sauteed or in a cake

Friday, December 2, 2011

Oh, what a night

You may have read about Titus’ first sleepover - Rensly spent the night with us to celebrate Titus’ 5th birthday.  It was an unusual night for us, but it was as we like to say, “very Vanuatu.”

To set things up, you need to know that a week or so before, I had killed a centipede in the house.  Centipedes are probably Vanuatu’s most dangerous pest, except for maybe malaria and dengue fever carrying mosquitos.  There are two varieties - unscientifically known as “big” and “small” .... haha.  We had seen a few small ones in the house over the past year, but this was the first big one.  And let me just tell you, they are intimidating suckers.  This one was about 6 inches long, and you can actually hear their legs hitting the ground as they slither along - gives me the willies just thinking about it!  I am not sure whether they bite or sting, and don’t really want to find out.  If they do get you on the leg (most common), you will swell up and limp for a few days - very painful.

Anyway, all that to say that we were especially vigilant that night since Titus and Rensly were sleeping on the floor.  Maybe this stuff goes on every night and we just don’t realize it?  Either way, we did realize it on November 24.

First was the sound of the cat chasing something, then eventually catching it, and then crunching the bones ... it was a mouse (the cat has caught no less than five in the house in the last month - she is definitely earning her keep).  A few hours later we woke up to a good-sized mud crab walking along the floor.  In a bit of a daze, I hopped up and grabbed a stool and corralled it out the door.  Once outside, I scooped it up and flung it as far as I could into the bush.  Trying to get settled back into bed, I heard an odd scratching sound coming from “the kitchen.”  Shawnda said she’d been hearing it all night, but didn’t know what it was (I am not sure she slept at all the entire night).  I got back up to investigate (the cat was very interested as well). 

It soon became evident that the noise was coming from underneath our gas-powered refrigerator (about the size of a “bar-fridge”).  The open space underneath is only accessible from the back side, so I maneuvered it around as quietly as possible, as the boys were asleep only a few feet away.  I finally got it turned around, pushed the cat out of the way, and hesitantly shined my light inside.  As soon as my light came on, the sound stopped.   At first I couldn’t make out anything underneath, so I turned my light off to wait for the sound to return.  It did, and I quickly turned on my flashlight.  The noise stopped, but I finally noticed a shell in a jumble of wires at the very back of the cavity.  Now that I knew where to look, I again extinguished my light and waited for the noise.  When the scratching resumed, I quickly shined the same location in time to see legs and antennae sticking out - a hermit crab had crawled back in there and gotten stuck.  He was a pretty good sized crab, with his shell halfway between the size of a golfball and a tennis ball. There was no way to get him out without taking the fridge apart, so I resigned myself to the fact that we were just going to have to endure the scratching for the rest of the night.  At least we knew what it was, and that it wasn’t going to do any harm.

After what seemed like only a few precious minutes of sleep, I heard the sound of something creeping along our bamboo wall.  My first assumption was that the crab had gotten loose and was attempting to leave the house, but upon looking with my flashlight, I couldn’t see a thing along the entire wall.  That meant that it was on the outside, and since there is a gap between our walls and our roof, it meant that it could be something on its way inside.  So, I mustered up the will to get out of bed yet again to see what it was and attempt to keep it outside.  It turned out to be another mud crab.  I assume it could have been the same one as before, but this one seemed to be a bit bigger (8 or 9 inch wingspan).  They are really fast, and very timid, so as soon as he realized I was there, he came scampering down the wall.  I was able to pin him between a cardboard box and the wall before he made it behind our 50 gallon drum of rain water.  Problem was, what was I going to do now, as I sure wasn’t going to grab him with my hands - his pinchers were clicking frantically.  I really didn’t want to kill him, but I DID want to make sure he was going to leave us alone.  I must have loosened my grip as I was trying to decide what to do, as he came free and fell to the floor behind the drum.  He must have felt safe down there, because he didn’t move for several minutes.  He was boxed in on three sides (two walls and the drum), and I was growing impatient.  I grabbed a lead pipe and skewered that dude, and flung him out into the bush.  I accomplished my goal: he wouldn’t be bothering us again that night (or any other night).

A few hours later, at the slightest hint of a sunrise, the boys were awake - talking and giggling not-so-quietly.  Oh, what a night!  But, we’d do it all over again because Titus thought his first slumber party was way-cool.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Happy 5th Bday, Titus

by: Shawnda

I truly can’t believe our “little” Titus-boy is 5 years old! But he is, and we have the cake to prove it. :o) This is really the first year that Titus has been “into” his birthday. He’s been planning and talking about his birthday for the entire month (b/c he knows his birthday is in November). His number one request was to have a friend spend the night.

On Wednesday night, we got one last 4 year old cuddle from him and put him to bed. Then we went to work on the verandah putting up a few decorations for the morning. On Thursday (24th) morning, as soon as the first rays of sunshine shone through the woven bamboo walls (at half past 5, mind you), he was awake and asking, “Am I 5 now?” :o) We delayed him for a few minutes while I snuck out to put his presents on the table. He was all smiles and excitement as he opened his presents of some new matchbox cars and a little flashlight.  After a round of “Happy Birthday to You,” the kids were off to school and I started on the icing for his cake. Having no powdered sugar, I made an icing that starts with a flour base. Don’t laugh, it’s actually really good. is supposed to be mixed with an electric mixer, on high for 7-8 minutes! Yeah, I did it by hand and MAN was my arm tired. I even had to have Eric relieve me a couple of times during those 7-8 minutes. :o) After tasting it to make sure it was edible (ha) I put it aside to wait for the afternoon (that’s another good thing about this recipe - it’s to be kept at room temp - don’t have to worry about it melting). Anyway, so I quickly mixed up some dough for the cheese-less pizzas I planned to make for lunch and then headed up to volunteer at the kindy. Titus gave all of his classmates a little lollipop to celebrate (which they loved) and we headed home for lunch.

As is their usual after-school custom, Titus and Lexi came home, deposited their backpacks, grabbed a quick drink, and then headed off to play with a couple of friends. I got the cheese-less pizzas ready and went outside to call them. I found out that while I was cooking the pizzas, they had been eating laplap at one of their friends’ houses :o) Well, so much for a “special” birthday lunch from mom...they already got what they wanted! Haha. They would much rather have laplap than “American food” any day - crazy kids! So Eric and I enjoyed the little pizzas and the kids each had a piece when they came home 30 minutes later. :o)

The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to make Titus’ cake. Now just a few months ago this would have been no problem, but due to a sad turn of events, our “dutch oven” (a big aluminum pot with sand in the bottom that we used on the stovetop), is out of commission - I burnt a hole in the bottom. So, I asked Abu Mommy (literally translated, “Grandma Mommy” - the name our kids made up for the woman Eric and I call “Mama” here in the village) if I could make the cake in her outdoor kitchen. I mixed up the batter and Titus and I headed down there while Lexi was napping. When we got there, we had several ladies giving us advice on how to cook it. We ended up cooking it like they sometimes cook laplap in a saucepan. We put a laplap leaf (like a banana leaf) inside of a saucepan, spread oil on it, and then poured the batter in. Abu Mommy made a fire on top of some stones, waited till it burned down and then we placed the saucepan on top of the hot stones (with several more of them on top of the saucepan lid). It turned out perfectly! I was so excited (and relieved) that it worked! Titus was just beside himself with excitement...he kept wanting to sneak tastes. I took the cake home, stuck it in our fridge to cool it off, and got to work on dinner preparations. Titus helped me “decorate” the cake with the icing (cut out a “5” from plastic, stuck it on the cake, sprinkled some cocoa over it, took the plastic “5” off, and “VOILA” - we had a great 5th birthday cake in the village!)

For Titus’ big celebration, we had our village family and Titus’ best buddy, Rensly (he’s his “brother” in our village family) over for dinner. We had rice, chicken wings, soup, pineapple and cake. It was a good dinner and we all had a nice time visiting and laughing together. I had Eric show a few videos of Titus from the last 5 years on his laptop. We enjoyed walking down memory lane and they all enjoyed seeing Titus when he was a baby. After goodbye handshakes and “Happy Birthday” wishes, the rest of the family went home, but Rensly stayed to spend the night. Titus and Rensly read some books while we set up their beds (slept on the floor in the “other room”) and then watched a short video before they were off to bed. No giggling or talking that night. All three of the kids were “plumb tuckered out” after all of the excitement of the day. Definitely different than any birthday experience we’ve had thus far...but fun none-the-less. A special day for a special boy.

Happy 5th birthday, little man. We thank God daily for the blessing He gave us in you.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Paid in full

I have begun to realize that Northwest Malekula is one of the wealthier parts of Vanuatu.  Of course, it doesn’t begin to compare with the wealth generated by the “upper class” in Vila who have access to regular paychecks, but for a rural community I doubt there is a region with more wealth.  This is primarily due to three cash crops which are in abundance in our region: copra (roasted meat of a coconut), cacao (raw beans from the cacao plant), and kava (a root that is ground up and added to water, the product of which has an intoxicating effect).  Almost 100% of the copra and cacao are exported (copra used in anything that smells like coconut, such as soaps and lotions; cacao is the main ingredient in cocoa and chocolate), while almost 100% of the kava is consumed locally (in kava bars and nakamals).

The wealth manifests itself in gas-powered generators, TV screens, DVD players, MP3 players, mobile phones, cement-floor houses, processed foods (rice and tinned meat from the store to supplement garden produce), trucks (for public transportation as opposed to private use), and boats (for commercial fishing and inner-island transportation).  Most recently, we’ve seen an increase in the use of solar power in our area (used primarily for lights, movies, music, and charging mobile phones).

Since I “installed” my own solar panel system at the house (which involved little more than connecting the red wire to the red wire and the black wire to the black wire), it is common knowledge (i.e. assumption) in the village that I am the one to call on to install your new solar panel.  This was magnified by my installing the system at the area’s Medical Clinic in Unmet Village a few months ago.

So, a few days after we arrived in Malekula this trip, a man from a neighboring village came by the house and asked if I could help him with the installation of his system.  I am glad to help out, as it’s the neighborly thing to do.  After dropping the kids off at kindy, I walked to Livit Village and found the man’s house.  Come to find out, everything was still wrapped and boxed up - he had purchased the system several weeks prior, but was afraid he would “spoil” it if he opened it up (and certainly wasn’t about to try and install it himself).  We opened everything up and got it connected.  And true to fashion, new electronic device + white man working = a big crowd.  They were all very excited, giddy even, to try it out.  They plugged in their TV and DVD player, and started up a movie.  They were all amazed that the sun was providing power, and quickly realized that they wouldn’t need to purchase fuel for their generator any longer. 

A neighbor heard about my presence, and asked if I would stop by his house on the way  home to install his too.  The installation process itself only takes about 10 minutes, and I was already there, so I agreed.  Different house, different system, same size crowd gathered to watch.

Both of these men tried to pay me, but I refused their money.  They were very appreciative.  I told them I was just helping them out, and for them to “pass it on.”  Frankly, this society exists on such a “pass it on” philosophy - they just aren’t used to expatriates following suit.  We’ve certainly reaped the benefits of the philosophy, and are glad to share in it both physically (installing solar panels) and spiritually (teaching the Bible).

However, in true Vanuatu form, Jile came to our house that afternoon carrying a chicken and a giant yam to show his gratitude.  When I saw him coming, I told Shawnda to grab the camera.  I wanted  proof that I had officially been “paid in full.”  Just another reason I love living here.

Putting our payment to work, we enjoyed a customarily prepared “laplap sorsor” (yam laplap cooked with chicken) with Abu Mommy and Abu Daddy early the next week.  Well worth my effort, and hopefully we also opened a door for the gospel in Livit Village.

An "after" view of the chicken

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's laplap time

by: Shawnda

After being given a HUGE yam and a chicken as a thank you gift (Eric helped a guy install his solar panel system) - I decided I’d much rather eat that chicken than keep it around and have to feed it and deal with another animal around (our high-maintenance cat is more than enough animal trouble for one family!). :o) Now if our kids were sentimental at all about animals, we wouldn’t have considered this so soon after receiving a chicken...but they are NOT. The first thing Titus asked after the man left was, “When are we gonna get to eat that chicken?! How ‘bout tonight?!”

So...I asked Abu Mommy and Abu Daddy if they wanted to eat laplap with us. (Of course, that means I would have to cook it at their house b/c I do not have a place for cooking laplap at my house.) We set a date later in the week that suited us all and planned for it. So the morning of the big laplap making day, the four of us headed down to their house. Eric and the guys did some work on their house while Lexi, Abu Mommy and I got to work on the laplap. We cut, skinned and washed the yam, grated it, and put it aside. We cut up lots and lots of vegetables (some for laplap and some for the soup we’d eat for lunch). Then we got to work on the chicken. Someone killed it (I had run home for the camera I think so I didn’t see how they killed it), but when I got back, the deed was already done. We then poured boiling water over the feathers. let it cool down, and got to plucking. Now I’ve seen a chicken being prepared many times, but have never actually plucked one. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it till I got in there and tried it. I actually enjoyed it. Crazy, I know. I’m not saying I’d want to raise and kill my own chickens all the time, but once in a while “ain’t” too bad. Lexi even got in on the chicken action when she begged Abu Mommy to let her hold the chicken once it was plucked. She held it up proudly and said, “Look at me, mom!” I couldn’t help but think of those funny rubber chickens that comedians sometimes use. Ha! That Lexi is one funny little girl!  And she definitely feels comfortable in the village.

In short...we had a lovely day. The kids played with all their favorite buddies, we had a nice lunch and laplap dinner, and the best part of all was just being able to fellowship with some people we love dearly.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Problem Solved

Those of you who read our post on "Houston, we have a problem", might be wondering, "what ever happened to the shipment?!?" Well, as they almost always do, things did indeed work out, but not exactly in the way I had planned. If you haven't read that post yet, you might want to read it first so that you are up to speed.

Last you heard from us, I was at the Internet cafe in "town" on Friday morning, under the impression that the ship was going to arrive the next day and that I had "booked" a transport (thanks to Alsen's assistance) to take all our stuff back to the village. I was just supposed to call him when I was ready to go to the wharf, and he would come pick me up and off we'd go.

On a side note, the decision to "just make a night of it" turned out to be a great idea. We stayed at the Nabelchel Bungalows, which was recommended by our New Zealander friend, who volunteers in the tourism department. The bungalow was very simple, clean (relatively new), and located in the midst of nice gardens. We heard through the grapevine that most tourists (though there really aren't that many yet) balk at the price - $60 per night. On one hand, I totally understand their thinking, as it is quite basic, but to us it had running water, electricity, and cooked meals, so yeah it was worth every penny! Too, we cheated a bit and fed the kids Ramen noodles and had them in bed by about 7:00 (which is normal), and then snuck over a stone's throw away to the common dining area and had a great tasting dinner (fresh fish, sautéed pumpkin, kumala, rice and cucumber salad - I had bought a Coke in town and put it in their freezer for an hour, which completed the meal nicely). We had he place to ourselves for the first thirty minutes or so, when two local guys came in for dinner. We all sat at the same table, and enjoyed getting to know them a bit. Of course, situations like those always provide us with an opportunity to share about our work and the Lord's church. But I digress!

About 9:30 the next morning, Steve (the bungalow's new chief cook) told me that he had just heard that the Big Sista had just pulled into port. I immediately starting walking towards Litz-Litz wharf at a brisk pace. I figured I might as well gain some ground while I waited on my truck to come get me. However, in true Vanuatu fashion, I called the driver (whom, by the way, I had seen in town the day before and reconfirmed) and seemingly woke him up. I told him the the ship had arrived and where I was. He groggily said (in Bislama), uhhhh..... sorry..... but, uh, I can't take you today because, uh, the truck's no good and, uh, yeah, the truck's no good, so, sorry.".

I was a bit miffed, but had known that such was always a possibility. I asked him if he could help me find another truck, but he said he didn't know of any. That really irritated me, because every truck driver on the island knows every other truck driver on the island - it's kind of a fraternity of sorts. Anyway, I knew there was no sense in arguing with him, as I was just wasting time. You see, the unloading of the Big Sista is a mass hysteria free-for-all. And oddly, there is always seemingly a 10-to-1 person to parcel ratio. That means that if you are not present when your stuff is thrown (literally) off the ship, you might well never see it (though I must admit that the level of theft is amazingly low). All that to say, I really wanted to be there when the ship started unloading. Problem was, I was over an hour's walk away from the wharf, and when I made it the wharf I wouldn't have a truck to load anyway (I was a unique customer because (a) I had a full truckload of stuff, and (b) I needed them to go all the way to Tulwei Village (a little over an hour's drive one way).

Though I had already made some progress down the road by this time, I decided to turn back to Nabelchel and ask Steve if he knew of any trucks. He tried a few of his friends, but they were all already at the wharf with trips scheduled. Steve really wanted to help, but there was nothing he could do. He gave me his phone number just im case, which actually worked out quite nicely. You see, in a classic moment of boneheadedness, I packed the charger for both mine and Shawnda's cell phones in our stuff on the ship. So by Saturday, they were both maxed out. Thankfully I had my old one as a backup, and now I could communicate with Shawnda if need be, through Steve's phone.

My only option now was to take off walking, and hope that I could find a truck to at least get me to the wharf. Problem was, most trucks don't run on Saturdays, and those that did were most likely already at the wharf. As I speed-walked in the direction of the wharf, I called my aforementioned friend from New Zealand, to get the number of a local mechanic we both know. I explained the situation and Howard assured me that it was no problem to store our stuff at his place (and even we could stay there if need be) until we could find a truck to the village (now most likely to be Monday).

I was able to get the number of the mechanic, and he agreed to call a few people to try and help me out, though he wasn't very optimistic about finding a truck to the village at this late stage. I had been walking for about 20 minutes when a transport approached from behind me and stopped when I flagged him down. He was actually taking three men to the wharf, so I got a ride all the way there. I tried to pay him when we got there, but he refused my offer.

I hurried my way down to the ship, keeping an eye out all the while for a truck I might recogize and cooerce into service, and noticed and it had only recently began unloading. I saw that some of my things were indeed waiting to be picked up, but also saw a familiar face from the village and spoke to him briefly (we'd been talking back and forth in town and the village since we were in the same boat (pardon the pun) trying to retrieve our cargo from the delayed ship). He assured me that a truck from the village had come loaded with kava to send on the Big Sista, and thus would be going back empty, and that the two of us could share it. What a relief! I then began the process of collecting my things one by one as they were offloaded. This actually proved fairly difficult because the relatively small wharf is extremely overcrowded with people getting off the ship, people getting on the ship, people retrieving cargo from the ship, people trying to get cargo loaded onto the ship, 20 or shiphands, every truck in town trying to get as close as possible so people won't have to carry their stuff very far, lots of people just there for the entertainment value, and one white guy. We shipped a record 22 things this trip, becuase this was our last shipment before we completely move out of our house in Vila, which basically means we had to ship everything we want to keep in Vanuatu, save a few items we'll leave with some friends in Vila.

Having so many pieces and being the only white guy there ended up being quite favorable, as before long all 200+ people there knew exactly who "Eric Brandell, Litz-Litz Wharf, Tulwei Village, Malekula" was. Before long people were carrying things to my pile for me. By the time I got all my stuff together, I turned around to see my "empty" truck 75% full (keepingin mind that I basically need a whole truck to myself). It was beginning to look like plan B (store everything at Howard's until Monday) was going to go into effect.

My friend soon noticed our truck too, and went to talk to the driver again (the driver's response was "we can just pile every thing up really high"). While he did, I spotted another driver that I knew and went to talk to him. I had met Yano back in 2010 when we got stranded in Santo together (perhaps some of you remember my "we have a plane and we have gas, but we have no truck to get the gas from the garage to the plane" story?) Anyway, Yano and I had spent several hours together then, and I has since seen him a few times around town in Malekula. I asked him about the possibility of taking me to Tulwei, knowing that he would have to complete one trip first as he was already loaded down. He said he'd be happy to, but that his trip to Rano Village would take over an hour round trip. It was really my only option now, so I said I would just wait for him there. I called Shawnda to give her a heads up, estimating that it would be about two hours before we were there to pick her and the kids up (and as it turned out, it was only two minutes shy of two hours - do I know Vanuatu or what?!?).

Within the next few minutes the boat was off for Santo (with several of the crew members yelling bye to me by name as they sailed off) and all the people and trucks cleared out ... and then there was one. There is absolutely no shade whatsoever at the wharf, and since there was still the occassional wanderer passing by, I couldn't leave the wharf altogether. So there I sat in the sun for a good two hours total. I was actually quite patient, but being the American that I am, I couldn't resist calling Yano twice just to confirm that he was indeed coming back for me.

Sure enough, he came back and we got all our stuff loaded. He had received a watermelon in Rano (as partial payment, I presume), and asked if it was okay if we ate it before we departed. Let me tell you, watermelon never tasted so good! I gobbled down several pieces, enjoying the opportunity for rehydration.

It was smooth sailing (another pun?!?) from there, as there was even still one store in town open where I bough a bottle of water and a sleeve of cookies (not even out of date ones!). Within an hour we were unloading our things in the village. I gave Yano an extra $10 to show my appreciation, and waived goodbye.

And so, as I mentioned before, "problem solved" - in a very-Vanuatu sort of way! ;)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Houston, We Have a Problem

The Brandells are back in Malekula safe and sound, but not without some interesting events transpiring!

About midway through our otherwise peaceful flight on our 18-seater aircraft, I felt a frantic poking on my shoulder from the seat behind me.  I turned around just in time to see Lexi's second "deposit of vomit" onto the floor, her seat, her clothes, and her mother's clothes.  For such a small girl, she sure can hold a lot of stuff in her stomach!  Of course, Shawnda and I both just sort of panicked, as there is no bathroom and no stewardess on the small plane.  Thankfully, Shawnda had three handkerchiefs in her carry-on, which she masterfully employed, along with Lexi's shirt, to complete quite a cleanup job!

Of course, as we disembarked in Malekula, other passengers are waiting to board the aircraft, with no cleanup whatsoever conducted in between.  We reluctantly walked up to the pilot and apologetically told him about our plight.  He grimaced, but told us it was no problem.  The workers who were unloading and loading luggage were as ill-equipped as we were, and went in armed with nothing more than several pieces of paper that they had dug out of the trash can.  Unfortunately, they had nothing to spray in the aircraft to mask the odor.  We felt terrible, but there was just nothing we could do!

We had actually become aware of "problem" number two before we even boarded the plane in Vila, but didn't realize the scope of the problem.  Alsen called me that morning from Lakatoro ("town") to let me know that he heard that the ship we had put all of our cargo on in Vila the day before had experienced engine trouble and was still in Vila.  I hurriedly went down to the wharf, and sure enough, the "Big Sista" was still moored to the seawall.  I asked one of the ship-hands when they planned to depart, and he replied very matter-of-factly that they would depart that afternoon, scheduled to arrive in Malekula the next day (thus, a day late).  "No problem," I thought, as such is to be expected in Vanuatu. 

We made our way to the village, and Alsen and I set up a plan to return to Lakatoro the next morning to retrieve our cargo from the ship.  However, upon arriving in town, I was informed by the agent that the ship had in fact not left Vila the afternoon before, and was now scheduled to arrive tomorrow.  "Tumoro nomo" is an oft-used phrase in Vanuatu, and while it's literal translation would be "just tomorrow" it in all reality means "not today."  I could have kicked myself for not confirming that the ship had departed the night before, as now we were stuck in town for the full day with little to do. 

I learned from my mistake, and called everyone I could that evening to confirm the ship's schedule.  Thankfully, I learned that the ship would NOT be arriving the next day, and was able to circumvent another purposeless trip to town on Thursday.  I went though the channels again Thursday afternoon, and felt pretty confident that the ship would indeed leave Vila on Friday afternoon, and thus arrive in Malekula on Saturday around lunch time.  The problem is, trucks don't depart the village for town on Saturday, and they offload cargo from the ship without concern for whether its intended recipient is present or not.  I counseled with Alsen, and he suggested I go to town on the regular service truck on Friday, and then charter a truck from Lakatoro on Saturday.  Thankfully, he called a "brother" who drives a service truck in town, who agreed to make a charter trip for us on Saturday.

So, here I am in the internet cafe on Friday morning, wondering what the weekend holds in store.  We decided to just make the best of it, and the whole family came into town and we will spend the night in a locally-owned bungalow.  It's something we've wanted to do for a while anyway, and figured this was as good a chance to do so as any. 

The best thing about both "problems" is, we've been in Vanuatu long enough to have learned to roll with the punches, come what may.  I think we've handled it quite well, if I do say so myself!  Especially since we have gone several days without the large majority of our supplies (food, clothes, phone charger, refrigerator, etc.).  "Oh my, Vanuatu!" indeed.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Interim Report

It’s a bit amusing that most people in Malekula refer to our off-months (in Vila) as a “spell” (i.e. rest, vacation), because these months tend to be even more busy than our on-sight months (in Malekula).

On our way back to Vila earlier this month, we scheduled a three day stopover in Santo to visit Mike.  After being together for almost 10 years (2 years at Bear Valley, 1 year of raising support stateside, and 6+ years in Vanuatu), we really appreciate opportunities to spend time with our teammates.  Mike took us to meet the “Shark Bay” Christians, who live on a plantation on the east side of the island.  We had heard many things about these four brethren (two couples - Toara and Hannah in their 30s and Seule and Miriam in their 60s), but had not had the opportunity to meet them.  It was a pleasure indeed!  It’s always neat to walk back into the bush and find people with whom we share our faith.  We visited, ate, and sang hymns together.  Hopefully our visit was as encouraging to them as it was to us.

Back in town, we were able to visit with Christians we’ve known for several years.  Meriam stopped by with her youngest daughter.  She and her husband were converted back in the early 90s while living in Ambae.  They are currently stationed in Santo where her husband teaches in a technical college.  I was also happy to get reacquainted with Jessie, who is actually the first ni-Vanuatu I ever studied with and baptized (way back in 2003 during our first visit to the country).  He is worshiping and studying with Mike, and is trying to encourage his wife to become a part of the Lord’s church.

I also took advantage of Mike’s internet connection to begin booking tickets for our furlough trip back to the States early next year, which is always exciting (and a bit overwhelming - price-wise and scheduling-wise).  We then returned to Vila for a week.  Our major focus while in Vila this month will be to pack up our house.  We have to be out of our Vila house by December 31, which sounds like a long way off, but since we’ll be in Malekula most of that time, we have lots to do.  This is compounded by the fact that we are having a massive garage sale the Friday after we return from Malekula on Monday (in December).  We really need to have everything ready for that by the time we leave Vila on November 1, and since we are basically selling everything that won’t fit in our suitcase or Malekula house, it’s a big undertaking!  It’s amazing how much “stuff” you accumulate in 6 years. 

We worshiped with the brethren in Vila that Sunday, and were encouraged by their continued spiritual growth and maturity.  They really are trying their best and have come such a long way in a relatively short period of time.  We also enjoyed a family pizza and movie night on Friday, a friend’s 4th birthday party, and hosting some friends from Australia for dinner.

Once our week in Vila was complete, we boarded a plane for Tanna Island.  Though our departure was delayed by three hours (the “large” plane we were scheduled to fly on was out of commission, which meant the airline had to make four trips on the small plane - since we weren’t tourists, we weren’t high-priority and were thus placed on the third flight out), the Bakers were waiting excitedly for us at the airport.  We all jumped in the truck and headed to their place up the mountain.  We all had fun catching up and seeing where the Bakers have been living and serving this year.  The next morning, Aaron, Kaela, Titus and I caught a truck to the south part of the island (1.5hrs), so that I could meet some Christians that were baptized this past August.  The Bakers will be moving back to the States early next year, and Aaron wanted to make sure that I knew these brethren and how to find them.  It was again very refreshing to meet these new members of my Christian family.  Tom’s wife, Margaret, was selling produce at the market back in April 2009, when Aaron and Mike Green preached there.  She brought that message back to her husband, who was a disgruntled “pastor” of a local religious group.  He was interested and contacted Aaron.  When Aaron moved to Tanna, he and Tom began studying together every Friday afternoon in Lenakel - a four hour walk one way for Tom!  The Baker family and a large group from Etas Village went to Yatukun (Tom’s village) in August, at which time he, his wife, and his sister-in-law (Meriam) were baptized.  Tom’s older brother (Meriam’s husband, Antoine) and parents are also very close to obeying the gospel, and attend worship each Sunday with this young Yatukun congregation.  Tom is 32 years old and very sharp.  I look forward to all that the Lord will be able to accomplish through him in south Tanna.

We were only able to spend one night in Yatukun, but we talked and studied with Tom and Antoine for the entire time - definitely the longest Bible study I have ever been involved in!  Aaron will visit them again in November and December, and then I will begin visiting them in mid-2012. 

Our team of four returned to Lorakau Village on Saturday, where we were honored to share in a laplap supper with a Christian family, Harry and Tess (and their six kids).  Harry was the first convert in Tanna back in 2009, and is the chairman of the Rural Training Center where the Bakers live.  Sunday morning was another treat, as we were able to worship with the brethren in Loun Village.  The churches in Lorakau and Loun rotate worshiping in each other’s village every other Sunday.  The 45 minute walk downhill to Loun wasn’t too bad, but the uphill walk back in the afternoon sun meant we were all ready for a Sunday afternoon nap!  I was overwhelmed by the experience of getting reacquainted with Christians I’ve known for years (in Vila, who subsequently moved back to Tanna to help the start the church in their home village), and meeting new Christians.  There are now 12 Christians in Lorakau/Loun, but they enjoy 12-15 visitors (most of them regulars) every Sunday.  Aaron, Cindy and the local Christians are involved in personal Bible studies with most of these, which means the church is on the verge of doubling in size!  One such prospect is the village chief.

Monday was (purposefully) a slow day in which the kids played outside and we adults visited, played cards, and rested.  We made it back to Vila safely on Tuesday, and once again hit the ground running buying supplies for Malekula, packing up the house, and preparing for a week long gospel meeting in Epau Village next week.  I will be teaching five lessons on “The Church of the Master, Jesus Christ.”  That effort will end on Friday, and Lord willing, we depart for Malekula the following Tuesday.  Yeehaw!

Mike and Alexis with the Shark Bay (Santo) Christians

Loun Village (Tanna) church meets here

Tom (Yatukun, South Tanna) has to climb a tree to get cell phone reception

The ground in Tanna has lots of volcanic ash mixed in - a lot like black sand

Alexis and Kaela enjoyed their time together

Shawnda and Cindy washing dishes at the Baker's house

Teaching the Tanna ladies how to make laplap Malekula-style

Aaron, Harry and Eric talking about the church in Lorakau

Reunited and having fun

On the road to Loun for worship Sunday AM

Cindy studies with the youth girls about moral issues every Sunday AM

A Tanna-welcome before worship

Preaching in Loun to a full (overflowing) house

Shaking hands as we depart the assembly

The Loun/Lorakau Christians

Jessie and his family in Santo (he was baptized back in 2003)
Enjoying time with Uncle Mike in the park (Santo)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gud Nius Miting 2

The Tulwei congregation conducted our second gospel meeting September 22-25, during which we studied “The Truth About Baptism.”  This was chosen because we continue to receive lots of questions and hear lots of misinformation being disseminated on the topic.

On our first night we let the Bible answer the question, “Why study baptism?” and noted that baptism is the point at which one enters into Christ (Rom 6:3), becomes a disciple of Christ (Mat 28:19), is saved by God (Mk 16:16; 1 Pet 3:21), and has his sins removed (Acts 2:38, 22:16).  Though many religious people today want to relegate baptism to position of little to no importance, the Bible is clear in emphasizing its import and essentiality.

Our second study considered how biblical baptism is to be administered, as there are a number of religious groups in the village who choose sprinkling over immersion, in spite of the clear teaching of Scripture.  We looked at the original definition of the word, made note of the logistics of two examples of baptism in the New Testament (Jesus in Matthew 3:16 and the Ethiopian in Acts 8:38), and considered Paul’s use of the word “bury” in illustrating baptism (Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:12).

We studied another point of confusion on our third night, when we looked at the difference between being baptized “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” and being baptized “in the name of Jesus only.”  There is a very vocal group that has made it there identifying mark that one must be immersed in water while the person baptizing them says “I baptize you in the name of Jesus only.”  This teaching, obviously, causes much confusion and contention.  We first noted that there is no magical formula that must be spoken when someone obeys the gospel, and then studied the meaning behind the two expressions (though the text never actually says “Jesus only”), recognizing the fact that both are accurate in describing why we are to be baptized.

During our final study, we answered the question, “Who needs to be baptized?”  We first looked at the biblical evidence, noting that one must hear, believe, repent, and confess Jesus in order to be biblically baptized.  A case in point is found in Acts 19, where about 12 men who had previously been immersed in water in an effort to obey God had in fact done so without the proper teaching/preparation.  They proceeded to be biblically baptized after being taught by Paul, which illustrates the importance of the divine order - teaching/understanding precedes baptism.  We then made application to who is not ready to be baptized (i.e. small children, those who’ve never studied the Bible, those who believe they have already been saved, and those who are baptized to join a church other than the Lord’s).  I closed by emphasizing that, though we had spent four days focusing on baptism, baptism alone is worthless.  It is the last step in the process of becoming a Christian, but it is a meaningless step without taking the preparatory steps the New Testament lays out.

I was very pleased with the way the lessons came across, and the way they were accepted.  Unfortunately, we had only two visitors attend the studies, in spite of our efforts to invite friends and family.  In some ways we weren’t too surprised by the community turnout, because most of the religious leaders in the village have “blocked” their members from studying with us.  We were all a bit disappointed by the lack of visitors, but I tried to emphasize that if all the Christians would gain a good understand of the topics we covered, they would be equipped to answer the questions of their neighbors in a less formal setting should the opportunity arise.

I am convinced that there are more locals seeking the truth, and we will continue to do our best to present it in such a way as to reach them.  Please be praying for open doors in Tulwei Village and throughout Malekula.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Village kindy

Back in May, I wrote the following to my parents in an email...

“I can't decide what to do about helping at the school. I am willing to help and want to, but I don't know about Titus and Lexi going with me. I asked Titus what he thought about us going to school and mommy teaching for a little while a couple of days a week. He said "No, mom. I just want you to be our teacher. Can't you just be our teacher? I don't want to go to school." Then I said, "What if just Lexi and mommy go to the school a couple of times a week and you stay home with Daddy?" He said, "No, I just want us all to stay at home - No one goes to school." I know we can't let him run our lives, but I also don't want to do anything that's going to make him more unsettled or insecure. He never wants anything to do with a large group of kids. And today Lexi said she doesn't want to go to school either. They play "school" all the time, but they want nothing to do with that big group of kids. They love individual kids, but when they see the large group together, they are intimidated (and I can understand that). I guess I can always try again next year.”  

Soon after we moved to the village I found out that the kindy (preschool) had two teachers, 40+ kids, no materials (crayons, paper, books, etc), no visual aids or flash cards, and no toys or games! And on top of that, neither teacher had any training at all, but were simply the only two in the village who were willing to commit to teaching kindy. Now I’ve had lots of teaching experiences, but have never had to come up with an entire curriculum under those circumstances. So I couldn’t even imagine how those two teachers did it! I decided to pray about it and talk to Eric. We agreed that it would be a great way to help out in the community and for the kids to have a little social interaction as well. But, as I wrote above, neither of our kids were interested and I sure wasn’t going to volunteer at the expense of my own children. So, I settled for a different kind of helping. My mom is a retired early elementary teacher (and she was an amazing one) so I always “pick her brain” for ideas for younger kids. I asked the local kindy teachers if they would be interested in having a little training session with her. They were super excited. So, when mom and dad were here in June, she and I went for one day and taught the kids and did a teacher’s workshop with the teachers. It went really well and we all enjoyed it. I still had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to help more, but didn’t have any idea how that would happen. Well...two weeks ago something changed. I wrote this in another email to my parents...

“A BIG day has arrived at the Brandell house...both kids are going to go to Kindy in the village starting next week. We are on school holiday right now and they have both decided that when school starts that they want to go to school. It was totally Lexi's idea. She's SUPER excited about it. We decided that she could go and that she would do just fine. We were a little unsure at first, but finally said “yes.” We decided that it would be a good experience for her. Then earlier this week Eric wanted to get Titus to think about going too. So he brought it up and Titus immediately said "no" but Eric didn't give up. He said, "Why don't you want to go?" and Titus said, "Dad, it's a little bit scary. I think I'll just stay with you and mom at home." Lexi said, "Ty, I'll hold your hand. We can go together! It's not scary." :o) He said, "No thanks, I'll just stay here." And we said, "Whatcha going to do while the kids are at school?" and he said , "Well, what are you guys gonna do?" Eric said, "Well, I'm going to be studying and Mommy will be working around the house." Titus said, "Well, I'll just go play with Wesley" - and we said, "Wesley and all of the other kids will be at school!" So he said again, "But I'm a little bit scared." And Eric said, "Titus when I was your age and I was starting to school I was so scared. But when I got to school, I made a friend who said, "Come with me Eric, you don't have to be scared! We're going to have fun!" Eric said, "Sometimes there are things in life that are a little bit scary, but you just have to try them anyway. Most of the time you'll find out that it wasn't scary at all and actually it turns out to be fun!" So Titus said, "Okay, I'll try it. I'll go to Kindy with Lex." So we told him and Lexi that they both would go every day for a week and try it out. Then we'd talk about it again to see what they thought. They both agreed. And we decided that Eric can take them - they won't be "clingy" to him like they would be to me and I'll pick them up (I plan to go up most days and help for the last hour or so of kindy to that'll work out well). They'll only have about 3 weeks of kindy before we go back to Vila and then we'll come back and have about 4 or 5 more weeks after we get back in November. We'll see how it goes. But if nothing else it's great for them to learn to function in a group setting and follow teacher's instructions (other than mom and dad's).”

Well, I can now report that after two weeks of kindy, we have a success story! It’s the perfect situation for them. The school is literally right across the road from our house, they leave the house a little before 8 each morning and have recess at 9:30. When recess is over (at 10), I come up to the school and do the last hour of kindy with all of the kids (the other teachers are there too). We do activities, sing, play with puzzles, do fine motor activities, and all sorts of other kindy activities. Mom and I were able to make some visual aids, flashcards, etc. when she was here. The other teachers do use them sometimes, but are still a little afraid to use them (it’s new and different). So I choose a couple each day and show them how to use them with the kids. It’s worked great so far.

The best part is that it has been so good for the kids’ social development and language learning.  Being away from mom and dad for 2 hours each morning has been great for their independence. They are making friends and learning how to get along in a group (taking turns, etc). It’s especially good for Titus to play with boys his own age, as most of his friends around the house are much older than he.  They are both communicating well in Bislama. We’ve really seen it flourish since starting kindy. As far as their academics, we still “homeschool” the kids (but at this point with them being 3 and 4 years old, that basically entails reading with them, learning letters, sounds, numbers, writing practice, etc - which are all part of our daily lives anyway). Village schooling is not the answer for the entire duration of our kids’ education, but it is a great fit for now and we are all enjoying it!

Kid Stuff

Titus and Lexi are enjoying all of the fun activities involved in being a kid in the village. The other day we were at the school yard while the youth group was playing a game. Leaves had fallen from the trees and Titus was having fun crunching them. So I thought, “Hey, it’s fall in the States and we used to love raking and jumping in leaves every fall!” So, even though it’s far from fall temperature, we raked up those leaves and Titus and Lexi had a grand ‘ole time jumping in them.

Of course Lexi spends much of each day playing “mommy and baby” - she makes babies out of whatever she has. At home she plays with her stuffed animals, but she’s been known to make babies out of leaves, sticks, and pieces of cloth. She also loves to imitate what she sees local women doing with their babies. She uses a sarong to tie her baby onto her when she walks places, covers her baby from the hot sun with an umbrella when walking on the road, ties a sarong between two poles for a baby sling at worship, etc. She often comes into the house scrounging for more babies when her friends show up and want to play too.

Titus is 100% boy and loves imitating the older boys. It all started with a “stick truck” back in February. The most recent fad in the village is that all of the boys walk around with their slingshots trying to shoot birds to eat. So, after practicing with a friend’s for a few days he decided that he needed one for himself. We had a friend carve him the “Y” and we bought a piece of elastic tubing for the sling part. He loves that thing and carries it with him wherever he goes. Never know when you’ll see a “pijin” (Bislama for bird). He hasn’t “stoned” one yet, but he will if he keeps practicing - he’s getting pretty good!