Saturday, September 10, 2016

Island Learning

Michael was buzzing with excitement.  He’d be attending the local primary school here in Aneityum and could hardly wait!   Meanwhile, Elizabeth was fighting off flu-like symptoms (Mark and I still aren’t sure if this was psychologically-induced illness at the idea of having to attend school or if she was legitimately sick).  She didn’t eat much and stayed in her bed all day.

When Michael got to his class, he saw all the snowflakes we’d made with them the past Friday hanging up to decorate.  The teacher told him that the kids had spent the rest of the day that day perfecting their snowflake design skills!  Mrs. Grace started the handwriting lesson on the board, and the kids pulled notebooks and pencils from their schoolbags and started copying the days of the week in English.  (I’m not sure if this is normally their lesson, or if they were adapting everything to English solely for Michael’s benefit.  I’d hoped she would teach in Bislama so he could tune his ear toward translating.  He’s always been a whiz at picking up languages!)

Once she had finished writing on the board and given a brief explanation of capital letters, she handed me a red pen and sent students over to me to “mark” their work.  Ah… back in my old teacher role once again!

I was impressed with how many school supplies this classroom had!  Never had I been in a village school that had scissors for every student or overflowing tables of leveled reading books!  When I asked Mrs. Grace if the government provided it all, she smiled and said, “No.  The cruise ship passengers bring donations for us.”  I was relieved to hear that the tourists who usually handed out cavities in the form of lollies, were also giving items that would help the children.  I decided to keep our school items that we’d brought to donate to villages onboard until we found a village that didn’t get cruise ship handouts.

That afternoon, I was in a class for women.  The ladies from the neighboring island of Futuna have been here all week with a Presbyterian Women’s Conference.  Today, there was an elective class given about Hygiene - food and personal - along with a lesson in making ‘Swit Pinats’ (Sweet Peanuts) and ‘Solted Pinats’ (Salted).  A man who seemed to be a health educator taught the ladies about keeping food fresh (especially important given there isn’t a fridge to be found on the island), cleaning food, utensils, and hands properly, caring for eyes, teeth, nose, mouth, and skin, and ensuring the use of clean drinking water.  It was all in Bislama, so I’m sure I lost some in translation, but I was impressed with the discussion and understanding of how vital women were in maintaining the health of the entire village.

In the end, he asked for questions.  Women asked about how smoking in the kitchen can effect the food and people, obviously her husband had been in the kitchen smoking and she didn’t like it.  Later he asked me if I had any knowledge to share about keeping foods.  Of course, we stored cooked food in the refrigerator, so that didn’t help them much, but I did manage to pass along the cruiser tip of turning eggs every other day and coating them with grease or oil to prolong their shelf life.  The ladies seemed thrilled for this tidbit of info, as one thanked the teacher and asked him to translate just to make sure she fully understood.  He said they don’t have many eggs here, so they are precious items when a cake or other baked item calls for one or two.

Onto the cooking class we walked.  The ladies donned scarves or shower caps and latex gloves to teach about how important food cleanliness is.  The teacher explained that he wanted to empower them with this understanding, not only for their household cooking, but so they could safely make and package foods to sell to others.

These are the times I love most - just being with the ladies during these casual gatherings to hear them giggle together and see them loosen up.  In church, everyone is so quiet and subdued.  Here, though, ladies cracked jokes and laughed at each other in their hygienic garb.  They handed me a pair of gloves and I stood around the table, shelling peanuts.  Then, I told them about the various reactions of the kids in school to the peanut butter we let them taste - re-enacting the boy who wiped his tongue off with the sleeve of his t-shirt.  They all giggled.  Then I shared the peanut butter song my kids love to sing about the peanut on the railroad track that gets smashed.  “Toot!  Toot!  Peanut Butter!”

On the lawn, ladies were sitting on mats grating cassava (manioc) that would be dried, ground, and used as flour - no cake mixes or bread makers here!  It was fun and novel for me to learn how they cook in these villages using open fires, underground ovens, and the sun, but I seriously couldn’t imagine doing these things on a daily basis just for sustenance.  Can you tell me how to get to the nearest Safeway, please?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Tropical Snow

Everyone piled in the dinghy and went back to the primary school here in Aneityum, Vanuatu. The grade 1 teacher, Grace, had invited us back to show the kids how to make paper snowflakes like the one Michael had made for our Colorado presentation. When we arrived, the teacher wasn’t yet there, but the kids were all seated and eager to hear from us, so we killed some time writing out our names on the board and asking the kids to say “good morning” to each of us as a way to practice saying our names. Funny enough, it was the pronunciation of “Mark” that turned out to be most challenging for them because the r sound isn’t used in their language at all.

Before getting to the craft, Michael modeled some of the clothing that we have to wear in Colorado when it gets cold - a warm hat, gloves, and a scarf. Then we taught them the song “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus” in which the lyrics talk of being washed “white as snow”. I was thrilled to find that they didn’t yet know the song, after they had known all the songs I’d suggested we teach them the past Friday. In full teacher mode, I wrote the lyrics in chalk with my finest “teacher handwriting”, feeling very much in my element.  It had been a long time since I’d stood at a wall-sized chalkboard!

Elizabeth passed around the cup housing the crystals we had grown from a kit Michael got for his birthday. The kids oohed and awed at the spiky purple shards of crystals poking from the bottom of the container as I told them how snowflakes are made from crystals of ice.

Then it was time to get creative. I demonstrated first how to fold the paper, and quickly noted that the children did not know the English names for the basic shapes. Oops! I took the opportunity to teach them rectangle, square, and triangle as I showed them the folding steps in the process.
Soon, E and M were helping me pass out the scissors and white paper. I was amazed at how attentive the children were, and so quiet! I could barely get them to nod their heads in response to my asking if they finished each step.

The best part of the morning was the moment we all opened our cut papers to reveal the unique and spectacular snowflake masterpieces we had made! The children smiled widely as their snowflakes unfolded and revealed the fancy design. I asked them to look at each other’s snowflake - they were all specially designed, unique - just like God created each of us.

We put the snowflakes on our heads and shivered. Then we threw them up into the air to make a flurry of snow. Miss Grace said they would hang them up in the class to show the parents for parent night next week.

Elizabeth and Michael were brave enough to play two solos and a duet on their recorders in front of the class. True to their personalities, Michael, the extrovert took it all in stride, while Elizabeth worried herself sick but did a wonderful job in the end.

Many times in villages, I have been careful not to intrude on the schools - not wanting to intimidate them or put them on the spot by asking if I could help teach. But when I think of specific topics we could teach them about, my teacher training kicks in and I get amped up to compile a lesson for them. Today’s was a bit of music, science, geography, math, and art. A full curriculum all in one lesson!! It was great to be in front of a class full of students again.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Show and Tell

The kids and I have been putting together something to ‘show and tell’ the local kids about our travels and our home state.  Elizabeth picked out some photos and helped create a slideshow, while Michael looked up the meanings of the Colorado flag design.  We all looked around the boat to find anything we could bring with us to share bits of the countries we’ve visited:  a wooden blue- footed booby from Galapagos, a colorful woven bag from Colombia, a hand-stitched mola from Panama, a boomerang from Australia, and many more.  The school children loved touching these special items that had traveled so far.

We also brought peanut butter for them to taste, placing a dollop on nearly 90 kids’ fingers!  Some tasted it and wiped it on their shirts in disgust, while others savored every bit or gobbled it up in one lick.

 Elizabeth and Michael were wonderful presenters.  E narrated the photos in a confident and clear voice.  M surprised us all by belting out an a cappella solo of a Maori song he’d learned in school in New Zealand.  Both of them gained confidence in their abilities to present and it was wonderful to see them do so well in front of such a large crowd!  Mariellen was our documentary filmmaker, videoing our talk and taking photos for us to remember this day.

The school master, Mr. Ben, was very grateful and said they would think of something for us to take with us as a representation of Vanuatu to show children in other countries.   Then Grace, Christopher’s sister who taught grade 1, invited us to see her classroom.

Colored handprints were strung along the ceilings and the children had carefully planted cabbage sprouts just outside the classroom.  They’d also grown sugar cane, which grew taller than me!  One boy said he wanted to give us some, and we were given two entire stalks of it - much to the delight of Elizabeth and Michael.  Grace proceeded to show us how to bite and peel off the bark in order to remove a hunk of the pulp to chew on and spit out.  Fresh sugar cane!

We all returned to the boat, proud and filled up from our experience.  To blow off some steam, we donned our wetsuits and went off to do some snorkeling.  It would be the first time back in the water for me in months, and it felt fantastic.  Mariellen was a bit nervous and unsure of herself, but we watched out for her, Elizabeth especially playing dive guide.

We saw Christmas tree worms clinging to coral heads, a large stingray, a black-tipped reef shark, fat-lipped giant clams, and Mark was the only one who  caught a glimpse of an enormous sea turtle.

There were various fish surrounding coral heads and darting back into their hiding spots when they’d see us coming.  My favorites were the shy bright orange “Nemo” fish that guarded their anemone homes.  Of course, the camera battery had died, but these beauties warranted a return trip, just to get a photo!  And I got to see my first underwater octopus, too.  Can you spot it?  The reef had created a ‘show and tell’ of its own, especially for us!

Giant Clam