Wednesday, October 21, 2015

We Are Now Family

Nella, one of my "little girls."
The villagers kept asking us when we were leaving. I was thinking that they would like to get back to their normal lives and get these white people out of their hair!

They were actually trying to plan a surprise thank you ceremony for us and we made it difficult between the weather not being right and the projects not being completed. So our intended departure date kept moving. And the mourning for George was a factor.

Big sister, Karina, is the other one!
The Thank You ceremony was also to bless the solar lighting
in the church and the new computer for the school.
In the end, they had a beautiful Thank You ceremony for us in the church on Friday just before the mourning service for George was to take place. The canoe came to the boat to collect us at 7:30 am and we were taken to the church.

The service was both a thank you to us and a prayer service to bless the solar lights and the computer. They are a very faithful group of people who strongly believe in prayer. Little did they know two white people for America would deliver!

Mr. Bill, the school's headmaster and son of the Parmount Chief, spoke on behalf of the village and school. Dennis gave some kind remarks about Chief Kaisa, Vincent, Mr. Bill and the village, which Bill translated into the native tongue. There were smiles and tears.
The girls made flower necklaces for us and presented them.
We were given two beautiful handwoven mats. Woven mats are an essential part of their lives. There are specific uses for specific types of mats: some for sleeping, some for sitting and others for eating. Of course, there are mats made for the siding of their homes also. The most special of the mats are the ones given as gifts.

Good example of how mats are used.

Weaving panels for the siding on the house.
Even Mrs. George was involved in making
the mats. She is carrying pandanus from
the gardens for weaving on Monday. 

They were weaving Dennis' mat! Beautiful!

Every woman in the village was weaving for the ceremony.
I was trying to help them figure out how to make a small sea
turtle so they could sell them in the market we are trying to
help them get started. A market was a new concept here!
On her school lunch break, this little gal sat down next to me
and just took over what I was weaving! Loved it as she was
so into it and serious about it. I hope the girls sell things.

The most senior lady did the finishing on Dennis' mat. She
also tried to figure out how to make the turtle. She will get it!
Our mats are the most colorful and beautifully woven ones I have seen anywhere. The funny part is that, having been a weaver and basket-maker myself, I actually spent the day sitting and weaving with the women while they were making our mats.

I learned how they get the colors: dye from Port Vila. Note
 the pot (old can) on the fire to her right; that is a dye pot.
Of course, I did not know they were for us and I kept commenting on how beautiful they were. The ladies would all smile and speak in their native tongue. Now I know why! They probably thought it was funny that I didn’t know they were for us. I was thinking of offering to buy mats from them.

She is weaving a sitting mat.

Actually, I have been trying to convince the women of having a market when visitors come to the island. Most yachties are looking for fresh fruits and vegetables and local crafts. Fresh bread is a big seller, too. I shared with them photos from other markets we have visited throughout the South Pacific.

They just can't believe that someone will pay for these items. They have often traded, but not sold. In the past, trading may have worked, but in today's economy, they need cash to buy rice and flour, etc.

This was precious! These two were sharing one lolly while
the mothers were weaving the mats!
We also introduced the idea of selling freshly baked bread to yachties. Fresh bread is a real treat when you have been out for a while. And since everything here is fresh and organic, bread molds quickly. Therefore, yachts need a place to buy bread! So simple to us; so difficult for them to grasp. The bread they make is wonderful and would sell well.

And I got the feeling that the women did not think they were capable of making things to sell. Really! Just look at the mats. And the bracelets they made for me. I guess, once a woman business owner, always an entrepreneur! I hope I gave them something to inspire a market in their future.

Chief Kaisa and Dennis: Now brothers!
Actually, that day was another one of the highlights for me as I loved weaving with the women. However, I could not sit like they do and my body was aching. The little children were hanging all over me, touching my white skin and yellow hair! They are so cute. Unfortunately, I did pick up a nasty cold from the runny-nosed little ones! It is their winter now and they are barely dressed on these cold (by island standards) damp days.
They even had refreshments after the ceremony.
Fresh lemonade and their version of bagels or
donuts. Very tasty, but quite greasy!

We were also given two carved wooded sculpture drums – one from the village and one from the school, and a carved wooden pig.
Dennis had been wanting a drum. The pig is a special animal here in the islands. They roam freely and are part of ceremonies and special meals. The Pig Killing Ceremony seems to be a rite of passage for men and only those who have completed it can see or dance the kastom dance.  

My mat has my favorite colors and is beautiful, too.
As one of our gifts to the village, Dennis gave Chief Kaisa a set of wood carving tools to be shared by those with the skills or desire to learn carving skills. The island's master carver used them to make the drum and pig.

Amazing work!
Our next challenge is getting them shipped home so the Australian authorities don’t take them from us. They are very particular in what can come into Australia and plant, fiber and wood products are a no-no unless specially treated and certified. Since our gifts came from the artisans, there is no certification.
(We later learned that we could take them to the Vanuatu Agricultural Department and have them treated and certified so they will be traveling with us!)

Dennis' mat has the orange in it. Mine is the other one.
It was a bittersweet day when we left the island. We worked in the rain until dark to finish the church gutters. Then we took our gifts and were paddled to the boat.
The following morning Chief Kaisa, Vincent and his daughters, Karina and Nella paddled out to the boat to send us off. But – they wouldn’t let go of the boat. They really did not want us to leave.
My girls!
Finally, we told them we had to go because we had the right weather window. Sadly, we watched them paddle away, waving as they went. I am sure we all felt the same sadness with the separation. We will always have the people of Avokh Island in our hearts and on our minds.
I get teary-eyed just writing these blogs!
Note: After pricing out the shipping of the gifts to the USA was over $900 and that probably does not include customs charges, we took the goods to the quarantine center and paid $20 USD to treat and certify them. Hopefully, it will get them through biosecurity in Oz!

Goodbyes are hard!
So long, Avokh Island! It has been one of our most
wonderful experiences in life. Thank you for your friendship!

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