Saturday, March 26, 2011


Tonight, the night of Earth Hour incidentally, i wanted to revert to talking about my trip to Vanuatu. i need a break from the earthquakes.

i flew from Efate to Tanna and noticed the difference immediately. People are materially poorer. Travel is mostly on foot, horseback or 4WD. The air is cooler and dryer. i stayed in a resort where power comes from the generator only. They managed hot water and excellent food. Their employees were all local, and the wages went back to the village to be distributed by the chief. i attempted snorkelling. i spent hours watching fish dance among the coral. i sat at night on the porch of the bure and watched the wildfire. At last, proper rain and a real thunderstorm. Storms on Efate were very polite, or maybe just too chilled out. In the tropics i expect to be drenched, gasping, my high tech raincoat a soggy mess, and to see lightning sear the air.

My main purpose in going to Vanuatu was to see Mt Yasur, the world's most accessible volcano. i set off mid afternoon with the driver and two men to pull the Landcruiser out of the mud. i now have a new respect for Landcruisers. The two men were never needed. We drove for hours up rutted tracks, and every few clicks there was a village, with pigs and chickens and horses (there are wild horses), and people waving and calling to us. And in every village there was sign saying Digicell. Hours away from electicity and shops, you can buy a top up for your mobile. There are three telcos in Vanauatu and they market very aggressively. There was also a Baptist church and schools, one for every few villages. On Tanna, people live all the way up into the inland hilly regions. They even live on the black ash plains.

The black ash plains herald volcano country. Suddenly, we went from jungle to black desert, with actual dunes. Scrub clung to the tops of sand blown ridges. i found some to go for a half-hidden pee, and as i finished a family wandered past. Nearby, the volcano. Smoke wreathed it and wisped into clouds, and every few minutes it would roar. And, impossibly, a river, skirting the bottom of the mountain. Back in the awesome Landcruiser, we began to climb. And as we trudged through the blasted land towards Mount Doom, our thoughts turned to Aragorn and Legolas and ... oh hang on, wrong script. It was, however, totally Mordor. i was amazed.

There is a fairly easy walk up to the top of the crater and thence to a rather narrow ridge where we could look right into the double caldera. The ground would shake and the volcano would spew glowing fiery magma into the air, and the magma would land on the sides, and smoke, and cool, and new rocks were thus born The sun set. Down in the valleys we could see the jungle, and the cooking fires. Up where we were, the volcano was everything. i am very lucky to have seen such a thing.

i also attended a John Frum worship service. The John Frum sect is described in two ways (at least). One is that some Tannese responded to the more brutal aspects of missionary Christianity by developing a prophetic faith that really caught on when the Americans came during World War Two. Tannese saw black American soldiers who appeared to have the full benefit of this new, materially sophisticated society. They formed the idea that John Frum (from America) would return with blessings and material goods. The other description of the John Frum sect is that it is a real cargo cult, where people pray for specific items eg a fridge (so i was told). Regardless, the sect is popular and its members are represented in Parliament.

i went to a village on a rainy night. Services are on Fridays. i sat in a hut with no walls while the men sang accompanied by guitars, a hand held drum, coughing and the sound of the rain. The scene was lit by their cell phones and the lights of Landcruisers. (i so love Landcruisers now!) Gradually the women came, sat around the edges, clapped and sang the 'choruses'. The songs were in a minor key and closely harmonised. What else can i say? There was little speech and all of it in Bislama. i did not feel capable of a theological or even an anthropolgical discussion. It was one time in my life where i really had no idea what was going on.

Back to Efate, which seemed slick and urbane in comparison. Roads, cars, shops, clean clothes, TV, lights. And then home.

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