Vanuatu Food Distribution – Day 1

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I am currently living on the island of Tanna, a southern island in the archipelago of Vanuatu, an island nation in the southern Pacific ocean (think east of Australia). In theory, I’ll be stationed here to help do food distribution around the island (serving something like 30,000 people!). I’ve been here already 4 days, which has flown by! However, today has been by far the most memorable day I have had in a while. It’s already a bit late, and I’ll have to the same thing tomorrow, so this post will be brief. But I just wanted to explain quickly, how my day went.

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The day here begins at 7am. We meet for breakfast, which consists of bread and coffee (today, we were lucky enough to get fried eggs – a rare surprise). Sometime between 7:15 and 7:30, we meet for group devotions, prayer, and daily planning. By 8am we were down to the warehouse, loading trucks for our distribution. Today’s site was Lowinimahapen (far North Tanna). Although only being about 25 miles away, it takes well over an hour to get there due to road conditions (dirt roads, up and over several low mountains). The scenery is absolutely stunning: you climb this dirt roads that snake their way up the mountainside. For many portions, you can see all the way down to the coast – and then out to the seemingly endless ocean. The island is made of lush, green plants. Occasionally you’ll see wild horses evening roaming the slopes.

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We spent most of the day distributing food to the village. Near the end, the chief came and told us that they were going to do a thank-you ceremony for us. Not being completely sure what this entailed, we tentatively agreed. It started out with the whole village surrounding the small field we were using. They then proceeded to bring out a pig, several woven bags, and woven mats. This was all piled in the center, where the chief stood. He then thanked us profusely (through a translator, as they all speak Bislama, but this village’s “formal” language is French, so they spoke French with us). Afterwards, I had to give a few words as well – and accept the gifts in front of the whole village by laying my hands on them. I thought we were done as the gifts were moved off the field.

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I was then more surprised when the whole village came out onto the field, and began to sing and dance a traditional song for us. For almost 15 minutes, this went on, everyone was involved (including young children) as they performed for us. To keep rhythm, they stomped their feet – this quickly created a dust cloud around the whole dance party as the field was made of dirt.

Watch some of it here:

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It was amazing to experience – watching these people dance, sing, smile, and laugh, despite having lived through one of the worst storms possible (cyclone Pam). They had hope – and it was contagious.

Vanuatu Day 1 -_

The Restaurant at the Other End of the Island


I yawned and stretched as rolled out of bed. This was the first day I didn’t have to be at the dive center at 7:45 am for diving lessons and my body had appreciated the extra sleep, although regretting the extra hours I had stayed awake watching a movie the night before. The room was dark, only faintly lit by the outside light seeping through the curtained windows. I stood and crossed the room, throwing back the shades to have my eyes blinded by the brilliant morning sunlight, making me unable to move like a deer caught in the headlights. I squinted and rubbed my eyes before fully understanding what I was looking at – this was the first sunny morning I had seen the whole week.


In mid-May, I had the opportunity to visit the famous island of Zanzibar, off the coast of East Africa. Most of time was spent in on the northern tip, learning how to scuba dive (something I had never done before – I even got certified for the first level, that is, PADI Open Water), and relaxing. I had rented a motorcycle for my week there, and although I was doing little drives everyday, it seemed like a waste to not explore more of the island. So I waited patiently for a day where there was more sun than rain (it rained every day for the first 4 days I was there) and charted a course.


People often say that the value of a trip is not the destination, but the journey itself. I often agree with this statement, however, at times it is makes the journey more worthwhile if you have a goal or destination at the end. With a little research, I found the point furthest from where I was staying, was near the southern tip of the island. Digging a little deeper, I found the most famous aspect of that point was a restaurant, known as The Rock. I decided, then and there, that when the sun arrived, I shall dine on the Rock.


And so, that morning that the sun greeted me in her full radiance, I hurried to get dressed, gather my camera, scarf down a quick breakfast, and jump on my motorcycle. I navigated down the eastern coast of the island, stopping occasionally to appreciate the view. While driving, I passed the Jozani National Forest. For time considerations, I decided to press on, and if I had enough time, I would stop on the return leg of my journey.


The road unfolded beneath my motorcycle quickly and the island’s coastline blurred by. Despite making good time on the road, about every half hour I was stopped by some policemen in order to be questioned. I often made sure to be the one to start the conversation, breaking into a smile and conversing in broken Swahili (I actually refused to switch back to English, no matter how bad it was – the policemen often didn’t know what to make of this). The police would often squint at me a bit, trying to process what was going on. Then they would ask for my license and Zanzibar papers – probably hoping I would have an issue. After 3-5 minutes of discussion, I was let go without any major issues as everything was in order. I was reminded by one that I shouldn’t drink and drive – which I’m not sure if it’s a good thing, as a friendly reminder, or if he thought I was already intoxicated at 1 pm in the afternoon….Zanzibar-40


Finally, as I rushed along, I saw briefly, between the line of palm trees guarding the pristine white beaches and turquoise waters from me and the hard, paved road, a thatched roof sitting out on the water. I quickly braked (perhaps too quickly as the back tire fishtailed along the pavement for a few meters) and turned around, taking the first footpath that wound lazily through a small fishing village before spilling me out on the wide open beach that stretched as far as I could see in either direction. In front of me, standing proudly out of the sea, stood a pillar of rocks, and on top, rested a small, white building with a thatched roof – I had made it to the Rock.


I was able to walk across the beach, and wade through the low-tide waters to reach the stairs, only getting up to my knees wet. Lunch was squid and vegetables – I figured since I was eating at “sea,” I had better eat something sea-worthy. However, by the time I left, the shore was already 50+ meters away, and waves had moved up 5 or 6 levels on the staircase.  A small boat was waiting and the men quickly put me on shore, coasting in on the waves.


My next stop was the Jozani forest, famous for its Red Colobus Monkeys (only native to Zanzibar) and mangrove forests. I visited quickly, as the sun was already beginning to set, before heading back up, straight through the island – which allowed me to see the palm plantations and spice farms along either side of the road (although I didn’t stop to actually visit them). By the time I arrived back up in Nungwi, the sun was almost hidden on the horizon, casting its final glow out across the calm waters, silhouetting the fishing boats along the shoreline.




All in all, it had been a good day.



Cats, Dogs, and Kittens


We tend to have a lot of cats here in Congo – the main purpose being that they are a rat deterrent (there are also a lot of rats in Congo). Our office cat had a litter of kittens last Tuesday (13 days ago) – 4 really cool looking kittens. Everything seemed to be working out fine for them and we left the first weekend, confident that Tes (the cat) was going to be okay.

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However, we came back from the weekend and found out that she had disappeared. The guards said they hadn’t seen her since Friday. So we were left were four motherless kittens – that hadn’t been fed in probably 3 days.


We brought them home and started the difficult process of syringe feeding them a mixtures of fresh cow milk and eggs (it’s the ingredients we had on hand). We have another cat at the house, who is pregnant, but instead of adopting them, she would hiss and growl at them. So for the past 6 days we have been feeding them by hand every 3-4 hours….a very taxing/difficult task.


While feeding them, we often put them down so our 5 month old puppy can also get used to them. Today, that puppy decided to crawl into the box with the kittens and start licking/caring for them. We were all surprised!


Then, as our cat, Stoner (don’t ask…) was sitting on my lap, I decided to try with her again. As I put down the first kitten she hissed and growled and tried to jump away. I held her and kept petting. Her focus was then distracted as our dog, Mara, jumped at her. In this moment of distraction, the kitten was able to sneak under her. She didn’t resist too much and I slowly added the others until all four were feeding off her.


Here’s to hoping that my days of feeding cats are over, and that the orphans have new mothers – either a cat or dog.


Climbing Mt. Kenya – Day 5: Exit Chagoria


The summit and descent of Day 4 were made our bodies dread waking up on Day 5. Our guide seemed impatient to get out, so by 6 am the porters were clanging away making coffee and omelettes (still not sure how they carried eggs up and down the mountain….talented men I guess). By 7am, as the sun finally crested the tips of the mountains, we were on our way, power walking through knee high grass, glistening from the dew as each blade stretched itself out to receive the morning warmth.


After forging our way through some grass, we stumbled upon a dirt road. Our guide promptly informed us it was a 15 km to the town, and headed off, taking long shuffling strides that carried him surprisingly quickly. Our porters also seemed to have a sense of the end and took off, soon leaving us just with the guide. Our guide….he was interesting. Somewhat of an odd man, and about 55 years old. He had climbed the mountain hundreds of times, so was very knowledgeable, but he also seemed to have arthritis and a limp. As a result, his shuffling was rarely as fast as what my sister and I could walk. The benefit of this is that the pace was comfortable enough for us to enjoy the beauty of the mountain and also not be physically stressed.



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Our guide had failed to mention that a truck would be picking us up, so we were surprised to turn a bend and find a car standing there waiting for us. Everyone piled in and we were taken into town. At a small restaurant we grabbed some hot chai and waited for our next ride which would take us to Sweetwaters – a safari game park.


Climbing Mt. Kenya – Day 4: Summit Lenana (4985 meters)


That night I did not sleep well, but rather tossed and turned in my sleeping bag. I’m not sure if I was just not tired, or too excited for the next day and what reaching the summit would be like. Over the course of the day we were joined by two other groups. A set of Israeli girls traveling around East Africa, and a Dutch couple. All 6 of us shared a large room, full of bunk beds. All of us had the hope of reaching the top by sunrise in order to see the sun come up over the plains surrounding the mountain.

IMG_9197Our alarms went off about the same time – that is 2:30 am. Struggling out of bed, we laced up our shoes and headed out the common area of our shack. We had all slept fully clothed for two reasons. First, it was cold enough to merit all the layers, and second – we didn’t want to have to undress and redress early in the morning with the crisp mountain air playing tag with us.




The hike began by 3 am. Darkness and cold surrounded us, but the sky above was probably the clearest, and most beautiful collection of stars I have ever seen. Being that high up, with no light pollution, no clouds, and no moon to drown them out – it was as though thousands of fireflies were right above us.


We walked briskly in order to stay warm. The guide led the way, followed closely by my sister and I held up the rear. With only darkness around, and white snow below, it was easy to lose track of distance and time. After several hours of walking, we finally stopped to pause for 10 minutes or so. It was then that the cold hit, I realized I couldn’t feel my hands nor my toes. I stood most of the rest period, trying to stomp the ground and clench my fists to generate warm. I had two pairs of gloves on, but apparently it wasn’t enough to provide what I needed.



The final stretch was by far the steepest, and most difficult, as we tried to navigate our way over large stones and frozen snow. We reached summit sign just as the sun began to creep over the horizon.



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After about 45 minutes of enjoying the sun stretch its rays over the landscape, and after we had dealt with about as much cold as we could, we headed down the mountain. At first it was a crawl, as we tried to find solid footing that would allow us to descend the steeper sections. As it leveled out a bit, we began to move faster and faster, only stopping for short breathers every little while. We marched through snow, rocks, swamps, gravel, and savanna before finally reaching the final lodge of the hike. All said and done, we had walked over 20km that day, and had been walking from 3am to 4pm, with only small breaks in that whole time. Needless to say, we enjoyed sitting down and drinking warm tea and watching the sun set slowly over the wooden cabins of our camp.

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Climbing Mt. Kenya – Day 3: Shipton Again


The third day was an extra day factored in to let us adjust to the high altitude. Although we both had felt very light headaches the night before, we woke up feeling refreshed after a full-night’s sleep – albeit a cold night, but a good night. At 13,800 feet, the air gets pretty thin. We ate breakfast and then headed out to acclimatize through a brief hike up a nearby rock face.



This hike proved one the more strenuous of the mountain due to how steep the climb was, plowing through loose sand and several inches of snow, and it being our first day at this altitude. Every now and then the clouds would part, giving us a brief glimpse of the sun, but for the most part the rainy season proved the stronger and fog-like clouds danced around, the wind tugging on our coats.


Out of breathe, we struggled till we reached the pass that was supposed to give us beautiful view of two mountain lakes. Instead our eyes were met by thick white clouds.


Nevertheless, we paused for a short break and rested beneath the shadows of mountain peaks standing guard.


Then began the hike back down. Instead of returning down the same route, our guide persuaded us to instead go around in a large circle, approaching our camp from a different direction. This included slipping and sliding down a half mud, half snow, side of a mountain.




By mid-afternoon we were back to the camp. We settled down for some hot tea, and soaked up the late afternoon sun that finally decided to show itself. Rock hyrax entertained us through playful games around the rocks, and even stopped to have their pictures taken.







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Climbing Mt. Kenya – Day 2: Shipton


Our guides pounded on our door at 6am, asking for us to get up. We both slowly unzipped our sleeping bags and tentatively stuck out feet out. My toes were quite unfriendly met by the brisk cold of 10500 feet of altitude. I heard pots and pans clinking outside and forced myself out the rest of the way, shivering and trying to get dressed as quickly as possible.


Outside there was light, not the sunlight of a bright summer morning, but dreary, heavy light held at bay by the thick clouds turning overhead. The mountain did not appear to want to welcome us with open arms. IMG_8552


Breakfast consisted of chapatis, eggs, and sausage. When we booked the climb, we did not really have any clear idea of what it would entail. It said food and water were covered – but for all we knew we could have been eating sardines and dried bread for five days. Much to our delight, and beyond all expectations, we were served well-rounded meals, with meat, carbs, and vegetables, at least three times a day. Not to mention a steady supply of hot tea and popcorn.



The morning’s walk was started at a brisk pace as everyone wanted to warm up, and some of us still harbored hopes of reaching the next camp before the clouds opened their floodgates. However, within an hour of walking it began to rain. Thankfully it was not a storm, butrather a slow, steady rain – much like our footsteps up the windy, slippery, muddy track.IMG_8569, as if to give us courage, theIMG_8656clouds would part, the rain would stop and the sun would slip through, kissing us with her gentle rays. However, before long the clouds would recommence their dialogue and the rain would drizzle down.


We reached the Shipton camp, nestled under the shadows of the three peaks of Mt. Kenya around 3pm. We rummaged through our bags to find warm (read dry) clothing and spend the rest of the sipping tea and watching the rain form little rivers that crisscrossed the slopes of the mountain.







The haphazard chronicles and musings of a global nomad.


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