Saturday, July 03, 2010

Our North Ambrym Trip... Volume 1

 I was talking with Houghton the other day saying that our trip to North Ambrym was what BOOKS are written about.  Action, adventure, drama, and everything else that goes into the plot of any good book.  The problem is... I am NOT an author!!!  So I hope to tell the story with clarity, sincerity, and honesty as I try and paint the picture for you as you place yourself into the back drop of North Ambrym, Vanuatu....

On Saturday morning, June 5th,  we found ourselves sitting in the Port Vila airport about ready to experience the first part of our journey to North Ambrym.  The day had been planned and anticipated for years past!  Although the location hadn't been known for years we KNEW that God has been crafting our individual lives, our families lives, and our personality, our very personhood for this time.  For this trip.  For this ministry, whatever it may end up being in the future.  That is the adventure of it all.  God has created each one of us for TODAY, and whatever today brings.... what an incredible thought!

SO back to the airport.  I, Gretchen, wasn't nervous about our trip until the actual airport wait.  I had plenty of anxious thoughts building up to this moment but I don't actually get nervous for what lies ahead until it is RIGHT there in front of me.  And for this I am very thankful.  Otherwise I think my nerves might talk me out of many things! ;)  God knows!

The kids ran around at the airport a little bit with Josh and Grace but I knew that their excitement for the unknown was also mixed with a nervous feeling of uncertainty of what they would experience on this trip.
Before the "family trip" to Ambrym, Jim and Houghton made sure that they took plenty of pictures from their first trip there last month so as to better prepare our minds for what we would experience to some degree.  They took pics of the boat, the house we would be staying in, the toilet (that was a SUPER important one!), etc.  Houghton and I tried very hard to prepare the kids for the physical changes that would happen in their life for the 12 days in Ambrym.  We talked about sleeping on the floor in one room.  Talked about using a hole in the ground as a toilet.  About the smell, about the walk to the toilet, about how they wouldn't have to go to the toilet by themselves etc. We also talked about the food and our family tried to eat island food here in Vila several times a week for several months, just to get them used to it.  We also tried to help the kids take cold showers as we would be showering with bucket water from the rain water tank.    And I can say right now that they did AWESOME with the toilet, with sleeping, showering and with eating!  I am so stinkin proud of them!

We took an insanely small plane to Ambrym. A 15 seater maybe, which seems so much smaller when your team makes up 10 people on the plane! I am so very thankful that the ride was relatively smooth.  Ugh, I dislike flying!  There was a small boy who was probably on his very first airplane ride sitting in front of Gwen and I (Gwen was on my lap). I would pass him some candy and bread throughout the trip to help him cope.  His father had asked us where we were going while we were sitting at the airport and we shared with him that we were going to Craig Cove (where the plane would land), Ambrym.  He said that his two sons, maybe age 7 and 5, were also traveling there and asked if we would make sure that they made it okay.  To which we said , "uh, sure!"  Not really sure what that meant.  Laura and I joked with Tania that she just adopted the small boy.  Haha. When it was time to board,  his father had to place him in his seat (kicking and screaming) and then he got off the plane, the older brother sat next to him and tried to calm him down, as did I with the small gifts of food. :)
Once in the air 10 minutes or so he calmed down just fine and made it safely to his families arms after we landed in Craig Cove.

The first stint of our trip was about 1 hour plane ride to the west coast of Ambrym, Craig Cove, like mentioned previously.  Craig Cove is the one of two airports (or more appropriately 'landing strips') in Ambrym.  They have flights in and out of Craig Cove two times a week.  Saturdays and Wednesdays.  These flights are always booked weeks in advance.  So we were so thankful to actually be taking off this particular Saturday as, if you can remember, we were having some unusually ill kids just up until it was time for us to take off.  So if God would have seen best to not have us on this flight, it could have been months before we were able to go again.  BUT God saw it good to bring glory to Himself by healing our little ones in time for this flight!
Here is a map of where we went on our flight to Craig Cove.... I am a total visual learner so I hope this helps all of those out there like me! :)

Just after landing we gather our own luggage off the plane and head to the building that is used as an airport where we have a truck waiting for us.  This was a pleasant surprise as we thought we would be walking the 2 kilometers to the beach where our boat would be waiting.  We happily piled our stuff into the truck and bumped along the "road" to the beach.  Esrom (on left of picture) met us here at the airport to accompany us all the way to Ranbwe, which would be our final destination.
But first there was the boat ride.  Jim and Houghton had a pretty incredible boat story from the last trip they took to Ranbwe.  Before we could be ready to sit in the boat for the next hour and a half, us light skinned people had to lotion up! :)  We also made sure we all had gone to the bathroom (an anxiety of mine... what do we do on the boat if we have to go pee???) So after a terrifying experience of toilet training with Gwen (her first bush toilet challenge) and a successful toilet adventure with Si, we were ready!
I am always worried about how we look in this different culture.  This culture where they don't own much of anything and get by with living off the land and having just a handful of extras (like clothing, very little to NO toys for children, very little to NO toiletry type things etc) so it makes me feel so awkward carrying the weight of the world in my backpack.   My backpack packed to the brim with all that would make me sane in a trip such as this.  And let me tell you what, we packed SO light!  We brought 3 changes of clothes for each of the 5 of us, shampoo for me and another for the kids, three headlamp flashlights, bug spray, sun lotion, water purifier, sheets for the beds we would be sleeping in, and "go fish" cards for the kids.  That is about the gist of what we packed!  We wanted to pack tuna but forgot it! To which I am very thankful. :)  All this being said, we are SO from a different culture.  Our needs (and many would say "wants" but trust me... in our culture they are "NEEDS"... ask me about this if you want more clarification on my idea on this! :)...  All this being said I am always so embarrassed about the things that we have when we are  in a culture where they get by without...BUT God is good and has been working on me to understand a balance in it all.

We loaded our backpacks onto our little boat and were ready to take off.  We were joined on the boat by a man from another island who comes regularly to North Ambrym (Ranon - where our boat journey would end) to teach in the secondary school there.  So it was us 10, this man from the island of Malakula (if I remember right), Esrom (remember he was accompanying us from west Ambrym, where our plane landed, to Ranbwe, our final destination) and our boat driver.  The boat driver is not the boat owner, but just the driver.  If you were curious. :)

Throughout the first part of our boat ride (we were able to split it in two by stopping about 1/2 way and swimming and hunting for duck eggs!) I was continually amazed at the beauty of Ambrym.  The landscape is just breathtaking!  This little Montana girl is mesmerized by green and the amount of green!  Mesmerized by coconut trees and lava rock, by flying fish and sea turtles, by empty beaches just because of the pure isolation of the beach, and by the HUGE amount of land that was totally unknown to me just a couple years ago!
 The stone formations where just incredible!  Because of the volcano on Ambrym, most all the rocks that we saw were from lava.  There was very little coral (white) ground, which is what the ground on most islands in Vanuatu are covered with.  Another thing that just blew my mind was the black sand!  I have never in my life seen sand that was perfectly black!  Tania, Laura and I were all baffled by this and when we got back to Vila and were looking through our pics we all found that the three of us all took this same pic!
                                   Me and Gwen
It was just so wild that your feet could be covered in something that was just like soot or ash and be instantly clean as the water would wash over your skin.  So hard to explain! :)
Jesiah and Josh got a good view of our trip from the front of the boat!
In the middle of our boat trip we pulled off onto a nice beach to rest our bodies, cool off in the salt water, and warm up in the hot springs!  YES, there was a stream that was steaming hot ( I couldn't go in it cause it was too hot... yep, I'm a  wimp...haha) because of the heat from the volcano.  It was also close to a spot where you can go and dig for scrub duck eggs.  These are ducks who lay their eggs 4 to 6 feet deep in the sand.  The eggs are about double the size of a chicken egg.  After some of the guys found these eggs they wrapped them up in leaves to keep them until we got to Rambwe.
Here are the eggs all bundled up as we take the second half of our boat trip

After another hour or so after our "spell" on the beach we pulled into Ranon.  There were some boys nearby who were called to come and carry our packs for us.  This is also very humbling.  Such  gracious people.  I cannot imagine many 11 year old boys who would so sweetly take your 40 lb pack and hoist it up onto their backs just like they were picking up a 5 lb pack!  They are so stinkin strong!  (I only wish I could have taken a picture of some of the villagers coming home from their garden!!! More on gardens later...)  It took us about 10 minutes to reach Ranbwe from Ranon. We got to take the short cut through the school grounds which is normally off limits to anyone not going to the school.  When we would travel the other way between Ranon and Ranbwe it would take about 20 minutes.  Not too terribly long!  Thank God!!! :)
This pic is of us walking to Ranbwe for the first time from getting off the boat in Ranon.  Its funny because those boys who took our packs are nowhere to be seen because they walked SO much faster than we ever could, even though they were carrying our stuff! Ha!
Once we were there we sat a bit and were offered some coconuts to drink.  Straight from the tree!  They took an AMAZINGLY long stick of bamboo to knock them out of the tree and chopped them all loose of their hard shells and offered them to us. LOVE IT!  
Also in this pick I was getting sand out of Gwen's swim suit. Hehe.
So here is the house where we stayed for the 12 days in Ranbwe. This is the home that all 10 of us lived in.  It was built for the pastor of the church that is on the other side of the house.  But as they have been without a pastor for a while, we were able to use the house.  Laura stayed in the large room on the left of the outside (but connected by a joining wall) of the house.  On the right is the water tank that collects rain water.  We were able to use this to shower with, drink, do laundry, and wash dishes with, well obviously ANYTHING that you would need water for. On the left is a bamboo bench that was used a TON.  We mostly just hung out and talked with people the whole time we were in North Ambrym.  So we were thankful for a place off the ground that we could sit some of the time.  The dirt is black from volcanic ash.  So you can only imagine how dirty things could potentially be.  Addy LOVES dirt and so she found herself covered in the black ash most days!

So what did we do the whole time we were there?
Well, like I mentioned above.  We really just hung out.  No real agenda to get a whole lot of anything done but just mostly hoped to check it out, meet people, talk with people, see where we might be able to build our homes if God does indeed continue to lead us here, and just get a feel for what village life in North Ambrym might look like.
I will just give you some more pics of what we found ourselves doing throughout our time there!

Tania, me and Laura enjoying the bamboo bench and Gweny drawing in the dirt next to us.
Addy with Joel.

After church they have a pot luck type thing (in the background is a church that is in Ranbwe and just behind Tania - taking the photo - is the house where we stayed) .  They eat together for fellowship and meetings after the church service is over and we were able to join in and tell a bit about why we were there.  It was various families from this church that organized our meals for while we were in North Ambrym.  Can you imagine this?  10 visitors for 12 days?  Lunch and Dinner?  God is so good to us and blessed us in such amazing ways through such wonderful people in Ambrym!

Houghton sharing why we were in Ranbwe.

As I mentioned previously, Houghton and I tried to prepare the kids as best we could for what they might experience while in the village.  What we realized later is that we didn't prepare them for the social changes that they would experience.  This was something that totally shook our kids world!  Let me explain, they weren't prepared for being the center of EVERYONE'S attention. Gwen and Addy especially.  People, both women and men and other kids, all wanted to touch and poke and pinch and hold and hold and hold and hold the girls!  They were not prepared to have their personal space completely ignored.  Not only where we sleeping differently, eating differently, talking differently, showering differently, washing clothes differently, going to a toilet in a different way, but they also were expected (not by us but by those around them who didn't know any different) to act differently.  To be playing and running around just as the local kids do etc.  They just were not ready for this complete worldview change!  So the pictures that you will see where the kids are being held by someone else are few.  I was hoping that they would warm up to all the new things, but I have to tell you the truth, it all was a bit too much for them.  Now we know that when we have a home built and the kids bring some of there normal things with them that they would be able to escape and gradually get into a new culture on their own time.  This is exactly the kind of things we needed to learn on this trip.  God was so gracious to us to teach us these things the first time around so we can better understand our family and the things that we can change the next time around.

Addy was willing to let these boys carry her around for a while.  She was a bit unsure but thankfully she had courage to let go of me a couple times a day. :)

This is the chief chopping down this coconut tree.  These trees are quite strong and he was going at it with an ax.  It was cool to watch!  Story goes that he was worried that this tree might drop a coconut on someone, particularly one of the kids,  underneath.  We were lavished with thoughtfulness and gentleness throughout our stay there.  The chief tried so many times to hold Gwen or Addy or to take them to get an orange off a nearby tree, ANYTHING, but the girls were too shy the whole trip.  Poor guy, he was so sweet about it too but I felt bad about it.  I hope that it wasn't considered too rude.  I hope that if we are able to go back that the girls would be more inclined to "venture out" past my arms reach. :)

After a couple days in the house we thought it best for Houghton to set up the tent and hammock and he slept outside.  The five of us were otherwise in a small room and Houghton was having some allergy issues to the mold in the room so he fared better outside.  And plus, the kids had a good time in the hammock.

This little pig was a good friend to the girls.

Helping with some cooking.  We are making banana simbaro.  You take a spoon and rub out the fruit from the the peel (these are large cooking bananas) and then roll them in a leave of island cabbage.  Then boil them and add coconut milk and salt.  Gwens favorite.

A couple days into our stay we were able to go and visit the market that happens two times a week in Ranon.  WOW what a sight!  There were about 5 tables and a couple of things on each table. We didn't really know what to expect but this was a bit disheartening as we buy SO much from our local market here in Vila.  So this may look a bit different if we end up living in North Ambrym.  We were able to use this time in Ranon to meet some of the ladies outside of Ranbwe.  This picture was taken at the market.

The chief was teaching Grace and I how to make a whistle with the leaves from a coconut leaf.

Washing day! Unfortunately, the day we decided to our wash was the day that it decided to rain.  So after all that work of washing out our clothes, they hung in the rain and after they finally did dry they smelled horrible! Haha.  Thankfully I have the excuse of washing more often because of the kids! :)  So I was able to wash a couple days a week.  I actually liked to wash clothes by hand.  It takes forever but it was fun to do. 

One of the days Houghton and Jim went fishing with some of the guys.  This picture is taken from that trip.  This is my favorite picture of the whole trip.  Check out the colors!  The guys took canoes out but the water got too rough so they had to hike back.  This was taken on that hike back.

On one of our trips back from Ranon to Ranbwe, we propped up the camera and got a team pic. :)

Volume 2 to come soon. :)  I wanted to get this one published before you all lost all hope in me. Haha!


Laura Thulesen said...

Great post, Gretch. You are funny - I like how you say "thankfully" you had an excuse to wash more often cuz of having kids. Hmmm, wouldn't have thought of that as a benefit but hey! :) Also, funny that you posted all our feet. Thanks for your insights and thoughts, fun to read!

Libby said...

Gretchen - This was a wonderful blog! It was fun to read, easy to understand, and interesting. Thank you for being willing to share your life with the rest of us in this blog. I love and miss you guys tons.