From the island of Santo, our next destination was Southwest Bay on Malakula Island. That’s too far for a daysail, so we broke it up into three days. The first night we (and Drina) anchored in Malua Bay. It was late afternoon by the time we anchored, and Bill and I stayed on the boat, but Bob swam ashore. He learned that there is a Seventh Day Adventist school there, and met many students. He got a lift back to the boat with one of them, named Ruben, in his dugout canoe. We invited Ruben aboard, and he was very interested in the boat. Bob named each sail and many other components, and Ruben repeated each word. But when we invited him to come inside he declined. Not sure if that was a cultural thing about entering someone else’s dwelling.
In the morning another canoe came for a visit, paddled by a woman named Stephanie. She brought fruit, but she asked if we could give her rope. This is a common request, allegedly “for my cow,” though I think it is a very tradable commodity, and I have my doubts that Stephanie has a cow. We told her that we need all our ropes. She then said that she lives in the bush with her children ages 6 and 7, and it is cold (which indeed it was last night), and do we have a blanket we can give her. No…but…I said I would find something warm for her.
Rummaging below, what I found was my wool fisherman sweater, that I have owned for decades, but hardly ever worn. It may be TOO warm for this latitude, but it felt right to pass it on to Stephanie, and I did. We came away with a couple pamplemousse, a coconut, a photo, and a pleasant feeling of passing something along…releasing some positive energy.
We stopped at another bay that is not mentioned in our cruising guides, by the village of Tisvel. Bob and I went ashore, and were warmly welcomed. A woman named Kathy offered to show us the village, and Joseph (who turned out to be the village chief) and David came with us. Tisvel has 132 inhabitants, including the children…only one church (Presbyterian)…pretty little houses…one little store with mostly bare shelves…lots of papaya and mangoes and bananas and pamplemousse and of course coconuts, and other fruits that I didn’t recognize…cacao (we got to taste the bright white not-yet-ready beans)…running water at 4 community spigots piped from a big tank in the bush…fat chickens…scrawny dogs…a few pigs…bamboo harvested from the bush for building thatched roofs and woven siding… The place seemed very clean and nicely laid out, and our hosts seemed to be proud of it.
Unsure about photo etiquette, I asked if I could take pictures of the village — yes, of course — and then if I could take pictures of the people. That got some giggles and posing. Luckily Bob was using his iPad for pictures, because they wanted to see themselves in the photos. His iPad trumped my camera hands down for that.
We asked about Cyclone Pam, and learned that the damage was to their crops. Nevertheless, Kathy insisted on giving us a large papaya, and she laughed, “No!” When I offered to pay her for it. But we asked Chief Joseph if we could give a gift of a soccer ball for the kids to use. He and two other men wanted to see the boat, so the five of us paddled out in our dinghy to get the ball, and to show them our home. No reluctance on their part to come inside — they wanted to see everything!
I found it interesting that they assumed initially that we were from Australia. They had no idea where the United States or Canada are. They recognized the names of Tuvalu and Wallis, but they didn’t seem to recognize Tonga. They had traveled to other islands in Vanuatu (principally to the cities of Luganville and Vila), but not beyond Vanuatu.
They asked repeatedly if we had wives, and where were they. And how long we had been on the boat. I told one of the men that my wife would be coming to Australia — that I was looking forward to seeing her in three weeks. He gave me a look that said, “I bet you are; long time to be without your woman!”
Later in the afternoon Bob swam ashore again, and learned more. He met another Chief, who said that they rarely see white people. Bob said: but there had been another yacht in the bay the previous night. Yes, but they did not come ashore! Indeed our presence was special, because a couple of the lads then invited Bob to have kava. Kava is usually a social/ceremonial drink, but they said they couldn’t drink any because they were about to play soccer. The just hung out while Bob drank! They assured him he would still be able to swim back to the boat, which he did with no problem. He was quite gregarious at dinner, and then proceeded to fall asleep in the middle of trying to send email over the radio.
It’s a quiet night now in the bay. There are a few lights on shore — some huts have solar cells for a light and a DVD player, and there are a few people on the beach with flashlights. I can smell the smoke from fires ashore. I wish I could live in this village for a month, to learn what it is really like. Everything seems very communal…shared…easygoing. Everyone seems happy. Is there no sense of scarcity, like we-who-have-everything are so familiar with? Or is there another layer beneath the surface, that we can’t see as we sail on by?