Nearly three weeks ago, I said my goodbyes to my forty groupmates and hopped on a plane to Ambrym to begin my two year adventure. Now that I think about it, it’s rather hard to wrap my head around, namely due to the fact that it doesn’t feel that long at all!
But first, a quick flashback to the last few months!
On June 30th, Peace Corps Vanuatu swore forty-one new volunteers into service, myself included. Not a single person had dropped out during training which, by PC standards, is fairly impressive; not a single member of staff could remember the last time such a thing had occurred. This is not to say that training was an exceptionally rosy experience with little to no hardship. During training we collectively faced culture-shock, tropical cyclone evacuation, illness, mysterious insect bites, confounding bathroom setups, awkward translations, and, unsurprisingly, a lot of homesickness. It was not a graceful experience. But despite every rough patch, I believe that we all made it through due to the support we all received from each other and totally rad Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders, Thomas Domingo and Laura Loveland (so shoutout to you guys).
Personally, I would not have made it through without my friends; those I could call or text about every battle I had with the rat living in my ceiling, creepy noise in the night, or whatever weird ailment I had contracted that day.
So that was training. Here I am now…
I’m currently wrapping up week three at site. Today is the second and last day of the Inter-Primary School Sports Day, an event that brings all five schools of SE Ambrym together for various athletic competitions. My little school, Roromai Primary School, is hosting the festivities, meaning that we’ve been absolutely inundated with guests, the majority of whom are sleeping on the school grounds. Nearly every week I’ve been here has had some form of community event, meaning that I have yet to see the inside of a classroom. As it just so happens, it’s hard to keep kids indoors when there’s something a lot more interesting than school happening just a few yards away.
Despite being unable to really start my job, I am thankful for having all of this craziness around me; it’s a fantastic opportunity for me to meet the community, extended family members (which I will have to write about soon because it’s just insane), as well as learn about how these events are run and organized. Everyday I spend a few hours out watching the events before returning to my house to recharge, then back out again. Like a new pet goldfish, I’m slowly acclimating myself to my new environment rather than jumping in, full-throttle. This is for my own personal sanity.
I’ve been given a “custom name,” meaning that it’s what all of the locals call me. It’s a sort of symbolic gesture to indicate that I’ve been adopted into the community. Nowadays, I answer to “Leixul” rather than Emma. “Axul” means “to swim,” and “lei” on Efate (the main island) means “girl,” so I’ve taken to translating my name to mean “girl who swims.” Hey, there are worse things to me called. My name on Efate literally translated to “white girl” sooo… I’ll take Leixul.
Having your name changed is, in my opinion, a little psychologically challenging. You are no longer associated with your old name, and that name has no meaning to those around you. The change in name also pairs with a change in behavior, since a lot of norms we have in the States would be considered odd or outright improper on the island. Name change, behavior change… It’s like Emma and Leixul are two seperate entities. It’s kinda a mind-blowing shift if you think about it. Talk about an identity crisis waiting to happen!
Another favorite word people on Ambrym like to call me is “metalo” or the “white man.” The children, especially in a village where you’re not well-known, will usually start shouting “metalo, metalo, metalo!” the moment they spot you. As someone who falls on the border between “white” and “non-white” in the States, being identified as the “white man” is another awkward shift. I’m hoping to become integrated enough to where people will stop referring to me as metalo.
Finally, there’s “girl Roromai.” I haven’t been called this too often, not unless I do or say something that is considered to be specifically Ni-van (someone from Vanuatu). This is usually when I say a phrase in the local language, or make a self-deprecating joke about losing my American ways. I know that it’ll be a while before I’ll be truly considered a “girl Roromai” and not “metalo,” but I’ve got two years to change that!
So that’s all for now. I admit that it’s a very abbreviated version of the last few months but, now that I’m at site, I’m hoping to post more frequently!