Krista Rayl doing various things in Vanuatu
Krista Rayl, who graduated from Granite Hills High School in 2006, joined the Peace Corps with her husband Carl and is being stationed in Vanuatu for two years with a job in education. Vanuatu is a Pacific Island nation located near Australia, and the national language is Bislama, which is a blend of English and French. Krista and Carl conducted a question-and-answer session with freshmen interested in learning more about the Peace Corps and life on Vanuatu. Their questions and answers are below the cut.
Thank you all very much for your great questions! We took our time to give you thoughtful answers. If you have any follow up questions, feel free to email me back! I wrote most of the answers to the questions, but you can see that I labeled where Carl and I have separate answers.
During training, we didn’t have much wifi, but now that we are at our site, and have a little more reliable wifi, I will try to start posting to my Instagram: @ThePeaceWireProject
A question by Michael Keena : How was the transportation to Vanuatu?
There were 38 of us new Peace Corps Vanuatu Volunteers. We took a large plane from LAX to Aukland, New Zealand, where we connected to an Air Vanuatu flight to Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu. The LAX to Aukland flight was a very long 13 hours, and I wish I had a neck pillow, but thank goodness for headphones and movies on flights now-a-days! I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty starring Ben Stiller, which was a great inspirational travel movie. The Aukland to Port Vila flight was only four hours, and it was gorgeous view during the landing in green tropical paradise.
Devin Walter asks: What are some similarities between Vanuatu and the U.S?
Hmm. Good question because there aren’t many similarities. This is what we compiled:
-People drive on the same side of the road as in the U.S.
-Surf clothing brands like Quicksilver and Billabong are very popular.
-In the larger villages / small towns in Vanuatu people, I’ve heard people listen to similar popular music like in the U.S. like country, indie, pop-music, and more. As I am writing this, I can hear my host brother playing Let Her Go by Passenger.
-Soccer and volleyball are popular sports to watch and play.
-If Vanuatu could be like any U.S. state, then it would be most like Hawaii. The climate is tropical, very lush and green, with lots of palm trees, similar to Hawaii, but Vanuatu is hotter and more humid. Pacific Island culture is pretty relaxed and laid back. Everyone in Vanuatu wears flip flops, and a lot of people boat around.
How do you travel from island to island? (Brianna Matlock)
It depends. From the capital, Port Vila, to our site, Luganville, we can take a one hour plane ride. Although, planes are expensive and have tall fees for extra kilograms over the baggage limit. There is also a ferry service, that a lot of people use, which takes about 22 hours from Port Vila to Luganville. I chose to take the ferry because that was the cheapest and easiest way to get our belongings to site.
If you are traveling to closely inner islands, you can take smaller boats which range from 3-10 meters (approximately 10–33 feet) for 200 Vatu (about $2.00 USD). On the smaller islands, sometimes there are no trucks, so people walk everywhere.
Where are you staying in Vanuatu? What is it like? (Lexi Reyes)
Our site is called Santo East School, in Luganville, on the island of Santo. Luganville is Vanuatu’s second largest village, with a population of 13,000, and our school is actually one of the largest in Vanuatu with 1,300 students ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 13. Carl and I are living on the school campus in a house. There are 7 other teachers living on the campus too. We are very fortunate to be in a unique situation. Since we are in a larger area, we have amenities like electricity, running water, gas stove, and a refrigerator. We also have a traditional “bush kitchen,” or outdoor kitchen, where we cook over an open fire. In our backyard we have many fruit trees like banana, mango, papaya, avocado, and breadfruit. Also, we live right next to a coconut plantation. We are enjoying our site so far!
How is daily life in Vanuatu? (Juan Barragan)
Daily life in Vanuatu is very simple. “Island Time” is always an excuse for being late. Most people don’t have watches. For example, our cultural night in one of the training villages was supposed to start at 6:00pm, but the event didn’t begin until 8:00pm. You just have to relax and go with the flow. People are very nice. If you are on your way somewhere, but someone stops to talk to you, it is culturally acceptable to chat and be late to your event, then to stop the conversation to make it to your event on time.
And how is the climate? (Juan Barragan)
It is very tropical, green, and beautiful here. The climate is very hot and humid during the summer. Since Vanuatu is in the southern hemisphere, the summer months are January, February, and March. You can expect temperatures between 24-29 degrees Celsius (75-85 Fahrenheit) with 80-100% humidity. Ocean water temperatures range from 27-32 degrees Celsius (80-90 Fahrenheit). Summer time is also the rainy season. Because of El Nino this year, it has been unusually dry here, but still Vanuatu’s dry season gets more rain than San Diego. On average, in the dry season, Vanuatu gets 6 inches per month, and the wet season gets 13 inches per month.
How is the Internet in Vanuatu? (Juwan Dennis)
Vanuatu is up-and-coming in the digital world, and universal access is on the horizon. The two cell phone companies are Digicel and TVL. Some people are starting to use smart phones with 3G, but most people have 2G. You can find internet at various hotels and restaurants in Port Vila and Luganville, but still the wifi is not as strong as what we’re used to in the US. The Universal Access Policy in Vanuatu has a goal to have 98% coverage in voice, data, and the internet by Jan 1, 2018.
What is it like being immersed in another culture? What have you learned from it?
Krista: It’s a good feeling to be immersed and learn a new way of life. I’ve seen how people can own so little, and are extremely happy. I admire how Ni-Van, the people of Vanuatu, live very simply, and I admire how savvy they are working with the land to build houses from local materials or gardening so they can eat.
Being immersed in another culture is a very eye-opening experience. A goal of the Peace Corps is to integrate into society by making friendships, speaking the local language, and living like the local people. We had cross-cultural training on these topics, but I also like to watch and learn. My current motto is, “When in Vanuatu, do as the Ni-Van do!” For example, I wear culturally appropriate clothing by dressing in the local style. I wear dresses or skirts that are at or below the knee.
I have learned that it is important to respect the people and cultures of other places. Even when traveling to other countries for a short time, I will continue to research unspoken rules, appropriate manners, including appropriate clothing style, and do my best to learn essential language phrases.
Carl: I have learned that things are not weird, they are just different. I have learned to be more patient. I feel lucky to have grown up in the United States and have the opportunity to go to good schools.
Are there any major differences between their culture and ours? (Yuma Santos)
Krista: A big difference I have noticed is how children are very independent from a young age. For example, I saw five-year-olds carrying around bush knifes! The first time I saw that, I’m sure my jaw dropped! Bush knives look like machetes or pirate swords, and they range from 53-73 cm (21-29 inches). I learned quickly that they are tools used in the kitchen, in the garden, and for clearing brush. Everyone of all ages knows how to use them. My host family trained me, and now I can crack open coconuts using a bush knife!
Another major difference is the clear jobs for men and women. The women cook, clean, weave baskets, matts, and natangura roofs (woven palm frond roofs). Then men go fishing, clear brush to build the gardens, and build the houses.
What is the most interesting thing you have seen or done? (Elena Manzo)
Krista: Another good question. I’ve assisted in killing a chicken, taken a shower in the warm rain, climbed coconut trees, and snorkeled in the most beautiful and colorful reef I have ever seen. It’s also very interesting to watch the local women balance large baskets of food or buckets for washing on their heads.
Carl: One of my favorite memories is spearfishing at night with the local men. I caught a pufferfish, and then my host family taught me the right way to clean and prepare the meat to eat. Another interesting thing we did is when our host family took a boat across to the main island, we hiked 30 minutes into the bush, and I cleared the tall grasses and thick brush to help build a garden.
How is the food in Vanuatu compared to America? (Ariana Sotoahou)
In America, there is a lot more variety of different cultural foods. In Vanuatu, most everyone eats local foods such as tropical fruits, vegetables, coconuts, and lap lap, which is the national dish of vanuatu. Lap lap’s main ingredient is grated manioc, bananas, or yam. It is smothered in coconut cream and baked in banana leaves with hot stones.
Also, all the fruits and veggies are seasonal. Depending on the season, I eat a lot of papaya, bananas, mango, and avocados.
Sadly, there are no Mexican restaurants or taco shops here. Fortunately, I thought ahead and brought cumin and pepper spices from home, which are in most Mexican dishes. I’ve made everything from scratch, including tortillas, refried beans, enchilada hot sauce, burritos, tacos, and guacamole. Satisfied my Mexican food craving and introduced foods from home to my host family — check check.
Other information: Training
I’ll give you a little more background of our last few months of training. There were 38 of us new Peace Corp Vanuatu Trainees. Twenty-two health volunteers, and 16 education volunteers. We arrived in Vanuatu on January 24, 2016. Right away we began our ten weeks of Peace Corps Training which consisted of Bislama language, cross-cultural, health, safety, and technical training sessions. We split up into the ‘health group’ and ‘education group’ for more specific training sessions.
The group of education trainees spent three weeks in our first training village and then four weeks at our second training village. Our first training village was called Epau, on the island of Efate. Most of our time here was in technical training sessions for our education position and also classes on learning Bislama, the national language of Vanuatu. We lived with a host family, but in our own custom house, that looks like a hut, made with woven palm fronds.
The second training village was called Tassariki, on Moso Island, which was a ten minute boat ride from the island of Efate. We lived in with another host family, but this time in their house in our own bedroom. Here we did cross-cultural training such as, cut firewood, fish, garden, cook local foods, and storian (Vanuatu’s favorite pastime of story telling). Also, our education group was very lucky to accomplish two real projects during this time. The first project was to help the community build a library. The men in the village did the labor, and our group organized and labeled books, created posters, and found a librarian. I quickly sketched out a floor plan of where the windows and bookshelves should be and the local men made it come to life! Our second project was a resources for teachers and student activity book, to accompany a book of stories from Vanuatu. Both of these projects turned out amazing, especially in the short four weeks that we had, and we were happy with the results.
On April 1, 2016 our group swore in, changing our title from Peace Corps Trainees to official Peace Crop Volunteers! It was an amazing accomplishment thus far, after 14 years of having Peace Corps on my bucket list, and now making it through the 10 weeks of training.
There is still two years and much to do before I can completely mark it off my bucket list. We are currently working on integrating into our permanent site here at Santo East School. We are getting to know the students, teachers, and other staff. Also, we have met quite a few people from the surrounding community. Integration is our main goal for the next three months. It is important to get to know the community first and understanding their needs before we can dive into our project goals. Over the next two years, our three education project goals are:
1. Improve Student Learning,
2. Improve ICT (Information and Communication Technology) Training, and
3. Develop ICT Resources for Primary and Secondary School Communities & Provincial Centre
Bislama: The national language of Vanuatu
Bislama is pidgin English and French. Pidgin develops when many different languages and cultures are mixed, usually in isolated plantation nations, and people need to communicate with each other. Here are some Bislama greetings and introductions:
|Olsem wanem?||How are you?|
|I stret||It’s good|
|Gud aftanun, wanem nem blong yu?||Good afternoon. What is your name?|
|Nem blong mi…||My name is…|
|Yu blong wea?||Where are you from?|
|Mi blong…||I’m from…|
|Mi glad tuma blong mitim yu!||It was nice to meet you!|