Sunday, August 12, 2007

Kathy's garden visit, basket weaving and unique cooking experince.

A few days ago Dave and I were walking through the village nearest the yacht anchorage looking for a path leading to White Sands Beach. Apparently, a wonderful little hut restaurant is located on this ocean front beach with waves crashing just feet from the restaurant. We had asked for directions no less than three times and literally thought we were on the right path. In Vanuatu, it's quite common that everyone you meet on a jungle path will want to stop and chat and when a man appeared and introduced himself we thought nothing of it. After a brief handshake and the standard question "where are you from" and our standard answer "Amerika", he informed us that there was a Nakamal (kava drinking session) going on up ahead. It would be permissible for Dave to pass, but I would have to backtrack and take an alternate trail to the beach. Not surprising since we familiar with the local custom that women are not allowed to see the men drink Kava. According to our guide book a woman whom broke this custom in years past was punished with death. Obligingly, we turned around and headed back toward the last village to get alternate directions to the beach. Several women were standing near the perimeter of the village and when we asked for directions one particularly friendly and bubbly young woman offered to take us on the "women's" path to the beach. Her name was Lillian aged maybe 24 with 4 kids, aged 9 and younger. She walked, talked and laughed with outrageous affability all the while slashing at some pandamas leaves with her knife in preparation for making a basket. Dave asked if she could show me how to do some basket weaving the following day. She laughed with extra vigor at the idea of teaching basket weaving. We also mentioned we were looking for some vegetables. With some additional encouragement she agreed to meet me the next day at 9AM for a weaving lesson and a trip to her garden.

The following morning Dave dropped me off ashore and I walked to the village to meet Lillian. Off we headed through the jungle clad hills trekking a shocking distance to visit her many gardens. Lillian wielded a machete expertly and at times cleared what seemed to me a non-existent trail. I found it impossible to tell which way we were heading, but of course Lillian knew the place inside and out. Along the way she pointed out the individual gardens of her sisters, mother, uncles, grandmothers, etc. The image of a traditional garden as we know it is a far cry from these bush gardens where plants are most often just planted amongst the jungle in areas lightly slashed to allow additional sun light.

All the while during our trek, Lillian was ever so happy to show me around laughing incessantly and happy to have me pick out whatever I wanted. We dug up root crops such as cassava (manioc), two types of dalo (taro root), sweet potatoes, one giant yam, green onions and to top it off a stalk of sugar cane, just for a snack. The freshly harvest produce was carried in a basket made on the spot from a single green palm frond. Once we'd gathered a large basket of fresh vegetables we made our way back to the beach. Lillian then taught me how to make a palm frond basket, it was a bit difficult and mine ended up with a big hole in the bottom, none the less a great experience. All the women of Vanuatu use these wonderful baskets to carry anything and everything. At the end of the excursion I gave Lillian a nice blouse for herself, two dresses for her daughters and toy cars for her sons. I think she was most grateful for the fish hooks I gave her as she could now go fishing for the family. The women seem to do nearly everything, child care, cooking, cleaning, washing, fishing, gardening and the men?

Back on the topic of these natural palm frond baskets as they are a significant improvement over the plastic bags that litter the more "developed" Pacific islands and clearly one of the big reasons for a lack of rubbish here on Vanuatu. Vanuatu is exceptionally clean, at least here on Tanna, as mainly because they have not adopted the world of mass consumerism. No empty coke bottles or bags of chips lying around! A welcome change.

Once Dave picked me up we took some several manioc and dalo roots to the hot springs on the beach. This is where the locals cook their food. There were about a dozen villagers there hanging around the hot spring in a small hut, some women were cooking and others washing laundry in warm pools on the beach. A local man insisted in placing our items in the correct spring and covering it with rocks. The temperature was 200F. We left the food in there for about forty minutes and passed the time talking and taking some great photos.

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