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Monday, September 14, 2009

August 10-30, 2009 part 4 Asanvari Bay, Island of Maewo, Vanuatu – Getting Adopted!

On Monday we journeyed a few hours across to Asanvari Bay at the southern end of the island of Maewo. This is a beautiful bay with very nice villages and a wonderful waterfall. The ICA has invested heavily in Asanvari, assisting Chief Nelson's efforts to improve and advance his village. It is home to the Asanvari Yacht Club, which is basically an open-air, multi use community center type building. It can be a restaurant. It is quickly converted to a home theater where chairs are set up in rows in front of the village's DVD player with tabletop screen, or into an entertainment venue for Kastom Dancing and general celebrations. There is no bar and in fact, no drinks soft, hard or otherwise are provided, other than Kava, which is normally only served in the Nakamal, however, twice an exception was made for the ICA rally group and was served in the Yacht Club. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

On arrival, John (our leader) informed us that on Wednesday, the village would host a formal welcome to us all and during this event a local family would adopt each yacht family. Frank and I had heard of this practice but had no idea what to expect. I personally had some anxiety about it because friends of ours, on another boat and at a different island, had been invited to dine with the locals in their home and were served some very unappetizing dishes. One of those dishes was flying fox – a local large fruit bat! It was cooked whole. They said it stunk to high heaven and just did not taste very good at all. I will try a lot of things, but I just do not want to eat a bat. We were both hoping that being adopted by a local family would not necessitate our dining on flying fox. After getting anchored, I tidied up the boat while Frank went to shore to get the lay of the land. He returned to tell me that we had a dinner reservation at the yacht club for 6 PM. We were to bring a flashlight and our own beverages. We arrived to find that we had the place to ourselves. The meal du jour was chicken curry and sautéed vegetables, and it was delicious! Frank introduced me to Nixon, explaining that he is the son of Chief Nelson, and is the chef and manager of the yacht club. While children played about quietly, watching us eat Nixon sat and talked to us. He is an engaging 26-year old who seems mature and wise beyond his years. These young people grow up quickly here and take on quite a lot of responsibility at a very early age, so age 26 here is a much older "26" than back home. As we visited with him we learned much about his family and the village itself. Right now the entire village is in mourning for Nixon's 32-year old brother who died not 3 weeks ago, leaving a young wife and three children under the age of 5. I asked Nixon if his brother had been ill. He very simply replied that he had not been ill but had in fact fallen victim to Black Magic. Apparently this is huge in Vanuatu. These beliefs are very strong here. Nixon told us that all 3 of his brothers have died from Black Magic. He is frightened and wants to leave; yet his father, Chief Nelson needs him here. The standard period of mourning is 100 days yet here we were descending on these dear people like locusts just days after the Chief has lost his third son! You could see the sadness in his eyes, although he certainly stepped up to make us feel welcome and comfortable. Frank and I thanked Nixon for a delicious meal and promised to hold him and his family in our prayers.

Tuesday was a lazy day for us – book reading and just taking it easy watching as more ICA yachts arrived in the bay. Wednesday we all prepared to meet our families. Frank and I knew that we should prepare some kind of gift for them but not knowing who would adopt us and how many would be in our family I just took a tote bag with a couple dozen lollipops, a t-shirt and a cap. We were directed into the yacht club and asked to sit in chairs that had been arranged around the perimeter along the walls. Chief Nelson greeted us and invited John to join him as they performed a ritual of assigning John an honorary leadership role. Nelson and his wife had adopted John and Lyn a few years ago; hence they will always be with the same family. Following the formal welcome, Chief Nelson began the adoption process. It went like this: yacht name was called, summoning that family to the center of the room. The adopting family from the village would approach the yachties and introduce themselves, shaking hands, hugging and whatnot then would present gifts to their yachtie family. When Chief Nelson called out "Destiny", Frank and I approached to find that his own son, Nixon with his wife Vivian and two little girls, had adopted us! They showered us with fresh fruits and vegetables, placed leis around our necks, gave us hand-woven bags (beautiful basket weave totes), and then leaned over placing a Mother Hubbard dress over my head. As I was being dressed I noted a nod of approval from Chief Nelson. His son and daughter-in-law had made him very proud. I found later that receiving the dress is a very big deal. These folks wear mostly second-hand clothes; many are threadbare and have permanent stains and holes in them. That dress is special. She gave me the nicest and newest garment she owned, which had been made for her and sent to her by her mother from the island of Pentecost. I told her I will cherish that gift more than any other I've received. Actually she set the bar real high on that one. Afterward, the other ladies of the village were scrambling to give dresses to their adopted "daughters". We caused quite the little frenzy. (I made sure to wear my dress several times in the village during group events.) After all of the yachts had been adopted, a group of young men were brought in to prepare the kava. They used hand made tools to grind the roots. They ground and squeezed and worked like mad to prepare the kava just right. The head of each family brought his adopted family over to have a formal "high" or "low" tide drink from the coconut shell. We knew that Vanuatu kava is strong. Had read about it and had heard stories about it. Fiji and Tongan kava cannot even hold a close second to this stuff. We laughed as large men, big guys who can drink most people under the table were "woozing" about. I won't name names, but at the end of the evening those who had consumed more than two bowls had a very, very difficult time walking back to their dinghies. The locals enjoyed the show.

I am happy to report that we did not eat any flying foxes. We didn't even go to Nixon and Vivian's home but we did invite them and their two beautiful little daughters, Tesha and Leticia, over to Destiny. I had baked cupcakes and prepared huge goody bags for the family, filled with clothing, food, coloring books, hard candy, perfume, nail polish and a couple DVD's. Over the course of the next few days they lavished loads of goodies upon us: drinking coconuts, eating coconuts, an entire stalk of lady finger bananas (the really small sweet ones), paw paw, kumara, water cress. It was great fun exchanging and sharing with them.

The week was filled with activities. Chief Nelson and Nixon arranged for the locals to perform a Kastom dance show for us one night. Another night we enjoyed a feast of local pig and side dishes from their gardens, followed by a live performance of their String Band. Nixon arranged (and led us on) some beautiful hikes for us and told us stories of the history of this village and the tribes who have existed for hundreds of years here. We were told of the little people, the Lysepseps, who lived in the Banyan trees, and about the cannibal tribes who would murder the children of the rival chiefs and serve their body parts in laplap (a favorite gelatinous snack made from local roots), during feasts with the other villages. We hiked the waterfall. I did my laundry in the waterfall. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Asanvari. The day before our departure I made a picture CD for Nixon of all the photos we had taken of the hikes, the ceremonies, the families and the yachties, which I knew they would pop into the DVD player for everyone to watch over and over. It was a sad and teary farewell for us. We got Nixon and Vivian's address and promise to write to them as we travel onward.

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