2014 Vanuatu, Ambrym
"Ambrym is a place between the paradise and the hell.", I used to hear from my friend and fellow teacher Bertrand. And one should know how to rest properly, especially when there is plenty work. So after two years spent together teaching on the Tanna island Bertrand took me to spend the holidays with his family on his home island Ambrym, to the little village of Sesivi on its west coast. Bertrand’s famous catch-phrase self-explained immediately upon my arrival. Ambrym is a marvelous island, simple and essentially paradisiac and the locals have similar qualities. What is hellish is the heat, which is poured in unbearable amounts on its poor inhabitants by the sun and allegedly also by the island’s three majestic volcanoes. They are towering in the middle of the island and even from the coast one can easily see in the night their red glow above the horizon. But the hell could be also a reference to the murderous black magic. Ambrym is definitely renowned for it. When my friends from Tanna learned that I would spend some time on Ambrym, they started a chorus of laments: "Don’t you go, somebody will cast a spell on you!", "You won’t ever come back, they will bewitch you and something terrible will happen to you!" … or well-meant advice: "Mind not to eat anything that they would give you, it would be surely poisoned!" Whoever has spent more time on Vanuatu knows well, what I am talking about. Bertrand stayed calm about the subject and told me with an expert’s authority that in his village I am safe and that black magic is mostly dangerous only in the north of the island. So I set off without fear, but full of expectations.
One important realization to come with the heat of the first day was that the only fresh water that is available in the village is from thermal sources on the shore. Hot thermal sources. In tropical heat. Great. Luckily some of the villages have built cisterns to catch rain water. Even so during my entire time on Ambrym I had a permanent feeling of thirst and "cookedness". They were leaving me only when the temperature became a bit more reasonable during the evening and the village men were meeting in the nakamal to share kava and talk.
Life here, as all around Vanuatu, is colorful. One day we harvested copra on a coconut plantation. Another day we set off with Bertrand’s old rifle and chased large wild pigeons and flying foxes through jungle covered mountains of Ambrym. The fact that each of us eventually shot some was a clear miracle as even to make his moody old gun to go off required sometimes a superhuman effort. Another time we walked from Port Vato for five hours through night jungle and old lava streambeds all the way up to the unearthly looking volcanic desert and the Marum volcano. A staggering view. Back in the village we were preparing the "nalot" from breadfruit and I would admire incredible sunsets painted behind the silhouette of the Malikolo island. I was speaking with village elders about stars, life in the village and the beginnings of the mission, listened to them, learned from them … and thanks to Bertrand I felt home even on this faraway island.