In this week's letter, I took my first trip out of Lakatoro to a sports tournament at the former French administrative centre of Lamap. The French administrators later moved to Norsup, 8 km north of Lakatoro, reportedly because of malaria problems, but perhaps to better keep an eye on their English co-colonists in Lakatoro. During the short "Coconut" Civil War at Independence (July 30, 1980) Lamap sided with the secessionists and the government buildings, school, police station, and hospital (all perceived to be "government" property) were trashed.
In next week's letter, I accompany a mission to mediate a bitter community religious dispute in the Maskelyne Islands just south of Lamap.
. . . My other big trip was for three days last week to Lamap, on the SE corner of the island. The Malekula Sports Council, of which my boss is President and my counterpart Secretary, held a soccer and volleyball tournament Tuesday to Saturday. I went to see the country and to spend a day with my boss meeting with people on a nearby island (Maskelynes). We went down, together with a bunch of the teams, on an old wooden boat maybe 50-60 feet long. We were to meet at 7:30 and get going. Well, the boat showed at about 11:00, so we went down to the "wharf" (small landing stage). The ship couldn't' get anywhere near, of course, so we all ferried out to it in a 14' dingy loaded each trip with about 20 people and their stuff, so there was about 3 in. freeboard. My butt got wet when the tops of a couple of waves came over the side (you sit on the gunwale, just like they all do on the back of pickups around here). The big(?) boat was pitching up and down in the waves, so I took another half tablet of Gravol (Canadian motion sickness medication) while I was waiting in line on the wharf. There were 2 more trips of the lighter after mine, so we got started about 12:30, but had to pick up a guy on an nearby island, so we really got going about 13:00. I saw my first flying fish on the trip.
It took 4 hours to get to Lamap, during which time everyone slept, ate, read one old soccer magazine (French) and one old black and white "Phantom" comic (English), played cards, and picked nits out of each other's hair (popular local entertainment). I fried my legs and face. Upon arrival at Lamap, we unloaded into the small boat again and then waded ashore. I counted 80 passengers. (Lifejackets for crew only, of course.)
Lamap was the French Administrative Centre before it was moved to Norsup. There are semi-deserted administrative buildings, school, and hospital. We bigwigs slept on beds in the "rest house" (portion of decaying administrative building). No electricity (big generator taken to Norsup, no diesel for small one left behind), but running water in some taps - toilet tank broken; bring water in bucket to flush. The lighthouse there wasn't working. I commented on this to some local officials, but they hadn't noticed.
The teams all slept on pandanas-leaf mats on concrete classroom floors. Suppers were white rice and meat stew (although one night, no one would eat the meat - they told me it was spoiled, so we just had rice). One night, for a treat, my boss took me to a stall near the playing field for supper - we had rice and chicken stew (cold, because we went late). I had one breakfast with the teams - a large hunk of white bread and a mug of a hot drink. It was mostly sugar water, but had a weak brown colour and taste I can't place. It was boiled up in galvanized garbage cans over an open fire, so perhaps its won't do to speculate on the origin of the color and flavor. Everyone seemed to thrive on it (Later experience taught me that this was Milo, a malt and sugar drink manufactured by Nestlés Australia. Milo and sugar with hot water is a popular drink amongst ni-Vanuatu. The label proclaims it to be "Nutritious", but the small print tells you that it has to be mixed with milk to be so. Tragically, it is sometimes used by ni-Vanuatu as baby formula because it is cheaper than Lactogen, a baby formula manufactured by the same company.)
My counterpart, when inviting me, had mentioned that we would be eating island food, which would be a "good experience" for me, as he grinned slightly. Lucky for me, a local store sold juice and cream-centred cookies - I noticed a lot of team members there, too. There were also a bunch of temporary stalls set up selling rice and stew, sweetened juice, donuts (in a figure eight here and not very sweet), and green coconuts. Green coconuts are a big deal here. Instead of buying a coke, you buy a green coconut and the lady husks it and cuts the top off. You walk around drinking the water, which is clear and sweet, but has something in it that makes my stomach rebel.
The first day of the soccer tournament, we started with the opening ceremonies. Lambert (my counterpart) had told all the team managers that we would go strictly by the timetable, which meant starting at 8:30. Of course, everyone (including Lambert) started wandering down to the field at about 9:00, and we got started about 9:30. The field is cut into a hill, and everyone uses the cliff for a grandstand. About twenty women and children with nothing else to do that morning gathered up on top to watch (they were the only people there except the teams and dignitaries), so Lambert got on his loud hailer and told them to all come down where they could hear the speeches. They did.
Once again, I was an "honoured guest" and sat with the bigwigs in a reviewing stand that had been built for the occasion. The athletes all paraded around the field while we clapped the whole time, and assembled in front for about one hour in the sun, while every local politician from local chief to Member of Parliament and the Sports Federation President and Secretary gave speeches (my boss, Keith, gave a barnburner - sports is a big part of development, being the only real unifying factor on the island), the local priest prayed, and both the national and sports federation flags were hoisted (someone sent their kid up the poles prior to the ceremony to attach the ropes). It all took an hour, and included me and other honoured guests receiving leis from the local women's volleyball team (no kiss as is reported to be the Hawaiian custom). Of course, mine didn't fit over my head, and I was afraid I was flubbing it until I asked Keith, who advised that sometimes they made headbands, and it was supposed to fit on my head.
As the first game started, someone hauled out a portable generator, set up a big stereo, and proceeded to blast loud reggae music over the field. Apparently, this is standard procedure and actually was quite pleasant for me as a spectator. I watched soccer all day (wearing jeans and shoes to give my legs and feet a rest from sun - first time since Fiji).
Lambert had hauled along a TV and VCR, which he couldn't get going the first night. I think the generator only had one outlet, and he couldn't find an octopus (multiple outlet) so he could run both at the same time. The second night, he got them going and put on "Rocky IV". The person who used the tape before hadn't rewound it, and the credits came on in black and white. We fiddled with all the controls, but couldn't change it, so he declared the tape dead and switched to Plan B - part four of a TV miniseries called "Jesus of Nazareth". You can imagine how a crowd of 100 young men who were set for Rocky IV would react to that in Canada, but these guys really thought it was OK. When it started, I thought, "Oh no, some low-budget movie made by some obscure American TV evangelist like Rex Humbard", but it was real high quality with an all-star cast and good writing. The audience really got into it (this part of the series started the afternoon before the Last Supper) - when the Romans started whipping Jesus, the audience all clicked their tongues in disapproval, they all gasped when the crown of thorns was put on and Jesus was nailed up, and Pilate got a big hiss. Nobody seemed to mind Caliaphus, though - maybe Anthony Quinn is a big favorite here.
You may have gathered that this country is heavily into Christianity (with a very heavy dose of animism, as I gradually came to realise). Unfortunately, depending on which missionary got there first and avoided being eaten (no joke), every island or part of island is a different denomination, and they really take their religious differences seriously.
After that video, Lambert gave the crowd the choice between Rocky IV - he emphasized it was broken and in B&W - and a tape of a 1986 World Cup soccer game (his preference). The crowd went for Rocky, and it came on in colour (I suggested the next day that we had witnessed a miracle, which surprisingly didn't seem to offend anyone). The generator ran out of gas just after Apollo Creed was killed, so we all went to bed. We finished it off the next night, and it turned out that the credits were supposed to be black-and-white. Oh. I went to bed as they got into the soccer game video.
©S. Combs, 1996.