Vanuatu is an archipelago between New Caledonia and Fiji, about 1,600 km off the coast of Australia. About eighty islands are inhabited and people speak well over a hundred indigenous languages. A lot of languages means a lot of different customs, traditions and lifestyles. And because much of the population lives in villages in a traditional way, it is a very different world from our own.
I left for Vanuatu at the end of 2008, while I was still living in Wallis. All I had were some contacts to missions on different islands and a month to see what it was like in Vanuatu. I spent about a week on Efate, the main island of the country. More specifically, I went to Montmartre and Lololima, two mission schools a few kilometers from Port Vila … and that’s pretty much in the bush. Especially Lololima…rainforest at your doorstep, incredibly beautiful azure blue waterfalls hidden in the jungle just a hundred meters from the mission. A flowing river full of shrimp, and I will probably never eat fresher shrimp than the ones I ate there. I spent my time there with a dozen boys my age from all over Vanuatu who were preparing to enter the seminary. Would that be heaven on earth? Maybe … in any case, we ate the same thing every day: boiled cassava and papaya … and malaria medicine. But that comes with the territory. From Lololima, I went back to “civilization” in Montmartre. It was really fun with the Sacred Heart Brothers who run a missionary school there. One of them took me on a trip around the island. By car, of course. You cannot walk around Efate in one day like you can on Wallis island. Saturday night is dedicated to a “soirée” around kava. I admit without reservation: Vanuatu kava is the best.
For about ten days I moved on to Tanna Island, to the mission at Lowanatom. Here we are the last outpost of electrification, so luckily we have electricity, but even better is that about fifty meters from our doors we have a tropical coral reef… and Brother Antonio is a guide who knows its secrets perfectly. The food is a little more varied than in Lololima, but the ash from the local volcano falls into it. Mount Yassur announces itself from the other end of the island. One day I visited it. A spectacular sight. The next day we went with Brother Antonio to the missions of Lamlu and Imaru in the center of the island, the “middle bush”. You have to walk through the rainforest on tiny trails, through bamboo villages. We walk barefoot, it is really better than with shoes. Strange feeling … as if time had stopped. Time…back then I could not even imagine that in five years I will be back in this mission, working as a computer teacher with the local children. Life is full of surprises, isn’t it?
The last island of my journey in Vanuatu was Espiritu Santo. I was welcomed by the Marist Sisters (SMSM) in the school of Saint Michele, not far from Luganvile. On that occasion I visited Fanafo, Jimmy Stevens’ village in the center of the island. Even after all these years, his flag still flies there and the boys proudly walk around in nothing but their nambas. Here we are in the “brousse”, the jungle, as they call it here. Just for the feeling I was persuaded to go diving at Million Dollar Beach, where the Americans during the war accidentally created an artificial reef out of military equipment thrown into the sea. Pretty sight indeed with all the coral fish. On the beach I accidentally cut my toe with a sharp piece of military junk … apparently American weapons are still dangerous after sixty years. Luckily, one of the nuns is a doctor and puts my toe back together. After a week with the sisters, I say goodbye to them with a heavy heart … and it is also goodbye to all of Vanuatu. Some of the friendships I have made here will last for years and influence my future life.