Saturday, February 26, 2011

the blood black rage against the sky

You probably know more about the Christchurch earthquake than i do. i am without power and have only intermittant water, and so have only my experience, and what people tell me, to go on. i have internet access at work only. So this post will be as scattershot as my own experience.

My small elderly dog keeps trying to get in the car. He wants me to take him away. My 18 year old daughter has now seen four dead people and a building collapse in front of her. Two friends visited on bikes; one of them had his mother die on the day of the quake so they were touring the damage as a kind of therapy. The suburb of Sumner is half evacuated; the main roads out of town are gridlocked. i spent the morning down in the police cells. It was gritty with silt and part of it had been evacuated. They had set up a mess tent and the place was swarming with uniforms - army, police from different places, security guards. We were visited by the Australian Federal Police yesterday. In the evenings when it gets dark my husband and i lie in bed by lamplight and listen to the battery radio, like it is the 1930's.

i knew one of the people who died, slightly. He was a 22 year old young man, a very talented actor, a truly gilded youth. Mostly i have not thought about the deaths, but last night i did not sleep and i was drawn to imagine dying under a desk in an office. And i hoped he died quickly, and then i thought no, that is what i would hope of a feral dog, i cannot think anything useful when i think of him dying. There are no words and no thoughts, just blood black rage against the sky.

When i worked in a particularly harrowing job i would head home and find a voice within myself keening, the way i see in other cultures. When my father died i would take breaks from the family circus and walk around the streets singing. Last night i got up as i have done feeling for the firs titme in years there was no source of comfort. This is a playlist for standing in the dark in the back yard, with the power off, on the cracked and stressed earth:

You gotta Move, by the awesome Mississippi Fred McDowell
Don't Explain, by Billie Holiday
Lake of fire by Nirvana
Working on the Building by Cowboy Junkies
After the Gold Rush by Neil Young
Those totally weirded out gospel numbers from Brother Where Art Thou.
And this, set to music:

I believe
I believe I can hear
I believe I can hear the Lord saying
I believe I can hear the Lord saying
You gotta seek no other helper

'Be thou content with Me
and seek no other helper.
For none but Me can ever suffice thee'

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Efate is the main island of commerce in Vanuatu. It is the perfect South Pacific island with white coral beaches and coconut trees. i told a serious young man i met on a tour that more people in Vanuatu are killed by falling coconuts than by traffic accidents, and the poor chap believed me, but maybe i was right, with my made up statistic. There certainly don't seem to be many accidents, although the fabulous ring road around the coast of Efate is another story.

Built by the Americans, it has connected villages in a way the internet first connected the cyber world. Before the ring road, if you wanted to see your friends you bush bashed with a knife for hours. Now, you walk along the ring road. So on the ring road people sit, and play, and dogs wander, and a famous elderly man is wheeled in his chair, right down the middle as befits his age and status. Vehicular traffic is almost secondary, and needs to watch out for picnics.

The other lagacy of the American invasion of World War Two is botanical. The main plant on Efate is morning glory. With its big, heart shaped leaves it can grow a metre in a day. It coats the canopy like a net, smothers the trees, and make the landscape uniform. Tendrils grow onto the roads. There are no plans for its eradication, as there is no money. If the Americans wanted to do something for Vanuatu, they could exorcise their own botanical demon. i could get quite exercised about it myself!

i took several tours including climbing the gorgeous Mele Cascades. You climb hanging on to ropes, and at the base of the main cascade is a limpid pool of cool water deep enough to swim in. There are also small caves behind the waterfall. Undine fairyland.

Other tours involved kastom villages where ni-Vanuatu people perform in 'traditional' style. You enter the village, and the men and boys leaps out and threaten you, brandishing spears, clubs, ukeleles and the terrible tea chest bass. The idea is to evoke scary cannibal shit. Some of the tourists are quite sophisticated and mug for the cameras, pretending to be speared and eaten. i photographed Seru the guide, photographing the tourists, being photographed with the villagers. Actually i thought the jumping-out-and-scaring-people ritual was more like the Maori poowhiri, the welcome ceremony where the visitors are challenged, and once the challenge is met, they become part of the village and are no longer visitors.

Kava does not agree with me. i lay in my hotel room as the hotel band played Livin' on a Prayer (the windows are shuttered, so there is no sound proofing), exhausted from trips to the toilet, and decided from now on i would live a blameless life, and was grateful for the 'Gudfela toilet paper blong yumi ' and for clean sheets. A travel tip: food is expensive In Vanuatu but it is totally worth paying for something that stays down.

i had three nights in Port Vila, on Efate, and then went on to Tanna - and the volcano!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Wan Gudfala Nasen: Vanuatu

The title refers to a sign i saw in a van in Port Vila, Vanuatu. In its entirety it read :

Tugeta long loa tugeta long jastis
Wan gudfala nasen.

A sensible call to nationhood.

Bislama, the language of the ni-Vanuatu, began as a pidgin. It looks amusing but it is a language with considerable historicity and is not as easy to understand in spoken form as you would think from reading it. There are some words i could pick up, from prior knowledge, like 'picanini' which means a child in most pidgins, and 'save' which is in every pidgin and originates from the Portuguese. It means 'know', like our term 'savvy'. i have no particular talent for languages, and to me Bislama sounded like any other foreign language ie: incomprehensible, nuanced, complex.

i photographed two other signs, one on a cigarette packet which said:

Sigaret i kilim man

No specifics, but no punches pulled either.

And the other, in the toilet at Tanna airport:


which was a wise sign, because from the look and smell of the place many people had pispis long floor.