I write this from a one-bedroom hut in the middle of nowhere in Vanuatu. Actually, it’s in the middle of Teouma Valley. It’s very beautiful here, very green.
I’d like to say it’s peaceful and quiet but there are so many insects calling outside that it feels like I have tinnitus. And I met up with a rather large spider when I was trying to use the outside loo today (there is no inside loo). And a cricket. And a host of millipedes. So far I haven’t seen a centipede or anything too poisonous but I walk with care. Oh, and there’s a rat in the roof tonight so I hope he doesn’t make too much noise when we’re trying to sleep.
When the insects stop calling, the birds start and the dawn chorus has to be heard to be believed. We are going to bed at an early hour so we can cope with the bright and early starts. Oh and the other super-cute noise is geckos blowing kisses to each other.
We are not on holidays as such, we have come here to visit with some friends who work as missionaries here and to try to support them. I think we’re being supportive but to be honest it feels a bit like a holiday too. Moz has helped with some maintenance, I’ve done some writing and brought some work with me from the uni, and next week we’ll be visiting a school and helping students with maths and science.
One big focus of the work here is clean water. Roger, our host, was telling us tonight about the seminars he gives to educate Ni-Vanuatu (the locals) about sanitation and the importance of hand washing. He says it’s amazing to see the lights go on for the Ni-Vanuatu as he tells them that the childhood illnesses they see all the time could disappear if they just washed their hands under running water. Roger also works with teams to build water tanks for the villages so that they have access to clean drinking water.
It’s easy to think that the way we live at home is normal, that water, water you can drink, pouring from every tap in the house is normal, that hot and cold running water is normal, that flushing toilets are normal, that fridges that keep our food from spoiling is normal.
It is so far from normal.
The room we are staying in while we visit is luxurious by local standards. It has a wooden floor that is raised above the earth, it has a sealed ceiling and fly screens on the doors, it has electric lighting and power outlets and it has a bed and two couches. All of these luxuries are denied to many locals who live in corrugated iron shanties with dirt floors.
However, I don’t feel like I’m living in luxury. For me this lifestyle is a bit of a stretch. I don’t like having to wander outside to go to the loo and I’ll like it even less tonight after seeing that spider. I miss my little creature comforts like fans and air-conditioning.
But I’m grateful for the reminder of how privileged I am. How unbelievably fortunate to have been born white, in a western country, with education and job opportunities and medical facilities. I hope that I can take this gratefulness home with me and see all my blessings with new eyes.
And I hope that I can help make a difference for the people here too. For people all over the world who just don’t have the luxuries that we see as the basics in life.
And I hope that the rat scrabbling around in our ceiling doesn’t keep me awake tonight.