Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Maskelyne Islands: Part 2

Joyce and John helped two women who were trying to
sail their dugout to the island where we were headed.
After the dance ceremony, we were guided back to the village for Kae Kae (food) tasting and  Kava. Their diet is all natural, organic from land and sea. The meat comes from chickens (definitely free range here), pork (little pigs running all over the place) or fish. 

A good harvest of bananas and other vegetables.
They eat the reef fish which we don't as we don't know if it is contaminated with ciguatera, which is commonly found in reef fish throughout the world. It causes neurological damage to humans. I don't know if they can develop an immunity to it or not. (Maybe that is why their life expectancy is 62 for men and 64 for women.)

We found it interesting that they do not eat the chicken eggs. Considering the number of chickens and roosters we saw, the eggs must be fertile and they just allow them to hatch to keep providing Sunday dinner! Roosters, hens and baby chicks roam all around pecking the ground for food.

This lady was peeling a root vegetable
 with a machete! They need kitchen knives.
Each family is assigned a garden plot on the mainland so they paddle their dugout canoes fitted with outriggers several miles across the water each day to work in the gardens.  At the end of the day, they paddle back with a canoe filled with whatever they harvested that day. And that is what they have for dinner. If there is an abundance of something in one garden they trade or share with others. 
Breadfruit grows on trees. In French Polynesia,
they fry it like French fries.
Here they roast it and mash it up.
Mangoes will not be ripe
until December.

Typical cooking fire: wood
with rocks piled on top.
The mainstays of the diet are the starchy vegetables such as breadfruit, taro, manioc and several others. They are cooked on hot rocks that have been layered on top of an open fire pit. It appears that the whole clan may use the same fire as we did not see pits near each house. They make a traditional dish call laplap. It is breadfruit and coconut milk wrapped in a leaf and cooked until tender. Very starchy!

Of course, they have banana and papayas, mangoes in season and a variety of other fruits from trees. And an abundance of coconuts. Pumpkin, which tastes like squash to us, is another popular vegetable. I have been putting it in curry.

Sunday dinners to come!
They come to the yachts to offer gifts of their harvest and ask for nothing in return. Of course, we can always find things they would accept as a gift from us. After accepting a large squash in trade for some canned meat, powdered milk and rice, I worried that I had just taken their dinner. I wonder what the lady of the house said when she didn't have the pumpkin she had been expecting! We have even accepted fish, but tossed it back after they have gone.

Aside from some kids with really runny noses, people appeared to be healthy and not overweight. Some real young ones were walking around chewing on sugar cane - their form of candy. As a former Dental Hygienist, it made me cringe to think of what was happening to their teeth.

This well is no longer safe for drinking water.
I would not use that water for anything
from the looks of it.

The water is an issue as it is in many islands. For drinking, they rely on rainwater which is not steady during the dry summer season. We learned that they carry water from another island by way of their canoes.
Almost everyone is barefooted with a few wearing Crocs and flipflops that were probably gifts or trades from yachties. The children are often bare-chested and the clothes are mismatched and gender non-specific. If it fits, you wear it. They have wonderful chocolate brown skin and big white smiles!

The local bakery when there is flour!
We saw the local bakery or at least we saw the sign for it. Unfortunately, there is no flour on the island and won't be until the supply ship comes. Joyce gave them flour and we gave them yeast so hopefully they were able to make some bread to hold them over.

They have a gas generator so they can have lights on a few hours a week. Supposedly, it is for the church. Although, Dennis looked at it for them and saw that no maintenance has been done. We are trying to find service manual for it so we can send it to Vincent. We saw little solar lights sitting around on stones near houses soaking up the sun's energy. This would be the little light they have each night. At least solar power eliminates the need of regular flashlights with batteries that need replacing and are harmful to the environment when thrown away.
A typical village house and yard.
The houses are a mixture of materials, with corrugated metal being a popular building material. I am not sure how they acquire it. Some houses are made from plant materials: bamboo, sticks and leaves. The roofs may be leaves or metal.
One of the metal dwellings.
The floors appeared to be dirt and we saw no furniture as we walked by the various houses. They weave mats for floor coverings and sleeping areas. There is a specific plant used for stuffing pillows. It sounded like it was similar to our milkweed plant.
The men and the women have separate ablutions (washing up/bathing areas) and it is tabu (taboo) for one to enter the ablution of the opposite sex. Dishes are washed in dishpans outside of the house. Laundry is also done in buckets or dishpans probably using sea water.
This is the bathroom over the water.

Preparing something with a machete
working on the ground.

She is weaving a basket from palm leaves.
The people are very friendly and seem happy. Their lifestyle seems very difficult to me, but they know of no other way. They are a very poor village and do not have representation for political support. As a result, they get no help from the government. It is survival of the fittest at its best!

There are no stores and they have no money. When a supply ship comes from the mainland, they trade fish, fruits and vegetables for flour, rice, yeast and other things they need. They are in need of so much, but have no money to purchase things.

Lollipops are a big hit with kids and adults!
We asked how we could help get some of the things they need. It was suggested that money would help them, but we don't give money to individuals. There is a protocol in villages and everything goes through the chief. We prefer to give to the community as a whole so we know it is not going in one person's pocket. They are in great need of clothing and request used clothes for all ages and sizes. We will buy a bundle of used clothes in New Zealand and bring them back next year. We can also help by transporting goods from Port Vila to the island.

Demonstrating how to remove rust from saw blades.
Dennis worked on their generator and cleaned and sharpened one of their rusty handsaws. He taught some of the men how to keep it oiled to protect it from the salt air. He gave them his handsaw and file so they could keep theirs sharpened.

In addition, we gave fish hooks, foods, school supplies, cloth and thread, The biggest hit was when we handed out lollipops to all of the children - some of the men wanted one for after their kava drinking!

Everyone wanted to see photos of themselves!
Everyone was fascinated with the photos I took in the iPad and showed them. Everyone wanted to have their picture taken! Unfortunately, there was no way to print them off and leave some behind for them to keep.

One of the things that struck me was the clothing the women wore. They wear a dress known as a Mother Hubbard. It is not very stylish - somewhat like a moo-moo. They must keep their thighs covered so it is loose fitting so when they sit in the ground it can be tucked over their legs.

A couple of ladies in Mother Hubbard dresses.
Although as clean as they can make them, every dress I saw was in tatters - almost beyond the ragbag stage. Women have no status in these villages and their role is to care for the children, pigs and their husbands. In fact, very few of them even came out to see us. As I mentioned before, they no longer have their front teeth knocked out to show they are married and unavailable. But the men were all sitting around relaxing. Humm ... but, they had probably been working in the gardens and carrying back fresh water.
I have this crazy idea to buy each women in this village a brand new Mother Hubbard. I doubt that any of them have ever had a new dress. There is probably some village protocol that I would be breaking if I made this happen! That only makes it more challenging to me. I am working on resources through the Vanuatu Women's Council.

I think I will call my project "Dresses for Dignity!" Once I find out the cost per dress and see if I can buy them from a supplier (who may be a group of women sewing), I will buy as many as I can. If anyone cares to help in this effort, I will put your dollars to good use securing enough dresses for the whole village. Can't you just imagine how a woman would feel with a brand new dress just for her! And maybe some new underpants, too! Let me know if you want to help. 

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