Cancer – Rabis mit (rubbish meat)
Country & Western music – Singsing blong kaoboe
Vegetables – Eni kaen cabis (any kind of cabbage)
Rectangle – Gat fokona
Global Warming – Fasin blong wol i stap kam hot sloslo, we baembae i save mekem se long fiuja solwata i save kam antap mo draonem sam aelan (the fashion of the world where it becomes hot slowly, which by-and-by will make in the future the saltwater come on top and drown some islands)
One of the great joys of my time in Vanuatu has been discovering the Ni-Van people, their cheerful disposition, the easy and honest camaraderie they share with me and with each other, and the beautiful simplicity of their outlook have all been wonderful lessons for me. This simplicity is sometimes a two-edged sword, especially when it runs up against the complicated ways and desires of Western whitefelas like me. They often puzzle at whitefela and wonder why he wants things done a certain way. Why do you want those pieces of wood to be even? Why do you care if the roof is straight so long as it doesn’t leak? (and even if it does leak a bit, who cares? The rain is warm and nice…)
Sometimes these puzzling whitefella desires get interpreted too literally. One expat bought live chickens at the market and instructed her housegirl to “pluck them and put them in the fridge”. Upon returning she found the chickens in the fridge as requested… featherless (ouch!) and shivering with the cold. Another expat decided to bring over his beloved Porsche, he welded a 5mm steel plate on the bottom to protect against the shocking Vanuatu roads (some potholes are so large if you went in they might never hear from you again). He asked his gardener to “wash the car and don’t forget to wash underneath this time”. The gardener took the initiative, asked his mate to come help, and the owner returned to find his car upside down on its roof… as requested the bottom was spotless.
This simple Ni-Van outlook has also meant they are very gullible, and they have a long history of being tricked by fast-talking foreigners. The Chinese said they wanted to build a fish-packing plant which would employ hundreds of Ni-Vans, but could they also get fishing rights for their longline fleet? No problem…but when the boats arrived, they took the fish but never seemed to come ashore since everything went straight back to China for processing…
One particularly gullible episode happened 15 years ago. An enterprising Indian guy came to Vanuatu and befriended the Prime Minister, to demonstrate his bona fides he donated two large garbage trucks with his name on the sides. Pretty soon he and the PM were best mates so he proposed a very exclusive deal. It seems he was in possession of “the world’s largest ruby”, no you can’t have a look, it’s hidden somewhere in Port Vila for security reasons (a fuzzy photo of the rock in question was available). Our Indian proposed that Vanuatu issue $175 million in government bonds, collateralized by the ruby, and the Indian promised he would take the proceeds and “build lots of roads and airports and such”. The scheme gained momentum and was nearing final approval, (plenty of bribes having been paid) until finally the expat editor of the local paper got wind and ran articles accusing the PM of selling Vanuatu to a swindler. At the last minute people started asking questions about the Indian, it turned out he had just finished a long prison term in Hong Kong for smuggling so the scheme fell apart. The PM sent some thugs to beat on the editor, but soon there was a new PM.
Simple, gullible, kind. The kindest is Jimmy, he and I have a real bond, mates for life after what we’ve been through together, and he’s the only person I know in the world who says “you must love everybody” and really means it. Everybody loves him right back. His simple desire to please, though, has a flip side to it. We were cutting roof rafters, long expensive pieces of wood that you don’t want to screw up. We were on either end of the board, I asked “does it reach?” and Jimmy replied “yes Mark”. I came down from the ladder to find the board was cut 50mm too short, shit. I asked “Jimmy, why did you say it was OK?” and he replied “because I didn’t want you to be sad…” The amazing thing is that right away he proceeded to do it again a second time. Infuriating, but how could I possibly be angry?
Sam is another one of the work “boys”, in his 40’s, Sam is an herbal healer of some repute back on his home island of Santo. He’s constantly showing me plants and trees and telling me recipes for making medicines of various kinds. He’s in great demand for his secret “men’s protection” cream, apparently it “seals off the penis” so you don’t get hepatitis or HIV if you go with a woman. Sam and I had a long chat about world affairs, he’s quite up to date and very negative about “all the wars that America starts”. We talked about that for a while, and then he asked earnestly “when will America send in Rambo? He would win all these wars right away…” The other work boys all nod and murmur in full agreement. Good question…