Adjusting to life back in the big smoke

Tuesday 11 July 2017

After several weeks at sea with upwards of 14 people living side-by-side in a space barely bigger than the average kitchen, it’s now just me and Peter left on the boat.

Over fruit salad and custard tonight Peter commented … “there really are two Vanuatus … the one we’ve experienced out in the villages and then life here in Port Vila”

And he’s right. With 80% of the country being rural and subsistence the bright lights, resorts, buses and fumes of Vila – what most tourists take away from their fleeting visit to this South Pacific country – is really something of an oddity.

Expensive by western standards Port Vila is hardly a place the average Ni-Van can afford to live, at least not without some serious sacrifices, such as time and money spent traveling long distances each day from their village. With wages low and costs high, for some it becomes a simple choice to instead remain living in their village, tending their garden and maintaining a subsistence lifestyle, rather than pursuing the expected “work path” for the marginal financial benefit it brings.

Out in the remote islands and villages of course that choice is largely denied, with income earning opportunities being thin on the ground and the necessity of survival – food, shelter and water – largely driving people’s choices and actions.

But despite the subsistence lifestyle there is still a vital need for Vatu – currency, money – to pay for such things as children’s education, fuel, travel, health care and the like.

Maybe it’s the apparent contentedness and generosity of the people here, plus a general resilience and friendliness across all ages, in the face of such meagre material wealth, that contrasts so much with our own society back home; where our pockets might be full but our hearts are often empty.

The process of readjustment back into “normal life” for volunteer team members must have something to do with the body having arrived home but the heart and mind – or at least a portion of them – still being back in a Vanuatu village somewhere.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and adjusting to life back in the big smoke

Rob Latimer

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