Last night was the first night we can recall in a long time where we didn’t need air-conditioning and only slept under a sheet, but it was surprisingly comfortable and dare-we-say even a little cool in the early hours of the morning. With Wayne a designated driver for the day, it was an early start in order to catch the 7am boat to Luganville to collect the utes the group will be using in the next fortnight.
A continental buffet breakfast starts at 6am for these early risers, and offered cereals, toast, quiche, biscuits, fresh fruit and juices, and plenty of tea and coffee to help kick-start things. Once the boat returned and took the first group members over, it was time to start getting things sorted for the project work – exchanging money at the bank (which gives a far better rate than that offered in Australia), tools to be purchased, construction material to be collected and delivered to the various job sites, and generally getting everything in order before starting.
In between that, the ladies in the group were taken to the local supermarket and open-air fresh produce market to purchase supplies for lunch. The supermarket is quite well stocked, with all the necessities you’ll need during any stay here, and at normal prices. There’s even a haberdashery section where you can take your pick of fabric and have something custom-made. Susie picked up a lovely sarong for 650 vatu, or about $7. It was a little odd to see one fridge well-stocked with soft drinks along with VB along the top shelves, not to mention the huge array of alcohol easily available on the shelves like a normal grocery item. The open-air produce markets run 24 hours a day, operated in shifts with other family members. If you want fresh and local, this is about as good as you can get. There were minimal plastic bags in sight, with most of the produce sold in hand-woven baskets – even large bundles of firewood. These baskets are true works of art, with whatever technique they use proving to be very strong and even giving handles of a sort to help carry and hold the goods inside.
The main street in Luganville follows the water line around, and is dotted on both sides of the road with shops that all stock similar items and appear mostly foreign owned. Numerous locations offer internet plans (from professional stores to roadside top-up stations under an umbrella), with a USB stick and 175MB available for $30, and an additional 2GB of data available for $65 – not as cheap as we had expected, and with Aore Island Resort offering free wifi in their communal area, we decided to make the most of it while we can, even though speeds are definitely not what we’re used to. It’s funny how it just doesn’t matter quite as much here as it does back home. The pace of life is significantly slower; most locals walk everywhere, so you do have to watch out on the roads when avoiding potholes or going around corners, and it took Wayne half an hour to receive a chicken wrap from a local cafe – full credit given for the outcome though, as the taste was great and cost about $8, much less than the $25 beef burger. We have heard a lot about the beef though, so the cost might be worth it one day just to check it out.
Once fully-stocked, the ladies were dropped off at the local mission house to prepare fresh sandwiches and fruit salad for the group. A quick stop back at the supermarket brought in an additional 4L of icecream to top it off. Over lunch, some of our group talked about the differences in our school systems and what they’d learned from the local principal. It costs about 10,000vatu for a child to attend school for the year – that’s about $110. We were gobsmacked at the cost – so little to us! – but it’s a huge sum for parents here and something they can’t all afford, with some parents in arrears about 2,300vatu from last year. It really makes you sit back and think about everything we have, all the money we earn, and everything we take for granted. Knowing that some children cannot attend school at all, or can’t complete their schooling, for the sake of what is to us such an insignificant amount of money is nearly shameful. People spend more than that on a night out just for dinner back in Australia, and here are people struggling to give an education to their child for an entire year!
Our 2:30 return boat trip wasn’t quite as smooth as our first, and we’ve worked out not to leave any bags or equipment on the floor of the boat, as you may be surprised to find it in an inch of water by the end – we didn’t notice the depth until we reached the end thanks to our closed in shoes.
After a fairly relaxed day, we sat back on the deck at the resort with fresh fruit cocktails to sort through our first full day of photos and video, and ponder the life lessons and realities we’d encountered in just a few hours. Neither of us misses having a TV at all. You just don’t need it, and nor do you want the intrusion into an otherwise more relaxed and peaceful existence. In some ways you are forced to slow down from the normal mad pace of life back home, and we can see how this is just what so many people need and crave to escape to.
Dinner was another delight, with Susie enjoying a flavourful and spicy vegetarian curry on rice, and Wayne again savouring the local fish with fresh salad and crispy chips. While the bar offers a variety of drinks, it only seems fitting to stick with the fresh fruit cocktails, which we enjoyed alongside fruit salad and chocolate sponge rolls with a side of icecream.
Tomorrow we will get the chance to film and photograph the Vanuatu Military Force base on the hill above Luganville, where – after waiting for 18 long years of waiting and following repeated requests to local groups and government organisations, all of which were rejected – some of our group will be constructing a multi-denominational chapel. They are so appreciative of what is being done that they are holding a special ceremony to celebrate and dedicate the site, complete with their own brass band to perform. It promises to be a great day!