Living in Vila

By Jenny Gray

So what if the house girl dyes all your undies pink or yellow as in my first case of undie assassination. And so what if every louvre window in your house gets trashed as in the case of a friend, who asked the gardener to wash the windows so he put them all in the washing machine – they just didn’t stand up to the spin cycle. And what of the political instability, nothing more than a family feud, a big family feud I grant you but really. I live in a tropical paradise where everyday occurrences take on a whole new meaning. Living in Vila is unique, things turn out very differently here. Expect the unexpected, the inexplicable, and the truly curious and also the riotously hilarious.

There are things, like in America, that can only happen in Port Vila. Take the fire brigade for example. Years ago a well-known shopping complex burnt down and when the fire brigade arrived at the scene the comedy began. First the hose had a kink in it so there was little or no water coming out then when someone got rid of the kink the hose went out of control, thank god nobody was looking down the nozzle. Then the fire got so hot it melted the thongs on the feet of the fire fighters. They were last seen hopping madly from one burnt foot to another as the building went down in a flame of glory.

Other interesting practices include driving around to find someone when they don’t turn up for a meeting. Imagine it, you’re in a meeting someone hasn’t turned up and you volunteer to drive around town to find them. This is a normal and acceptable thing to do. It is so common I’ve even done it to find where friends are on Friday and Saturday nights. Or then there are natural events involving the animal kingdom like having a crab move into your S bend, thankfully we have a second loo.

I love living in Vanuatu, it’s broken down and beautiful. It’s full of strange customs and wonderful people and then there are the expatriates (possibly the most exotic creatures of all) whom come from all over the globe. Being a small community everyone pulls together and there is something about the friendships you make here the bonds are very strong. It’s amazing what’s achieved and what opportunities you get to do things you would never normally do. Nowhere have I seen such communal effort. Some days can be trying like in summer there are days you never get dry, you’re always wet and everything about you is always wet; your bed linen, your towels the floor. I’ve actually left watermarks on the floor the humidity was so bad. Once I had a friend with long hair come over and stay with us. Her hair didn’t dry for ten days and that wasn’t because she was in the water all the time. Some days you can be disheartened, when you hear of another conman setting up business in town. Or when you get a whiff of political corruption or dissent so often associated with aid. Or when things happen in custom that you don’t understand. Surprisingly (or perhaps not) the Vila community has an uncanny knack of sorting the chaff from the hay.

At the other end of the scale there are people you meet, and things that you see and do, which have a profound effect on you, the kind of stuff you never forget. Like singing in the local choir and acting with the local Vanuatu Amateur Theatre group. Or the group of people I sit with in the morning for coffee; and the Wednesday crepes at Peche Mignon. My house girl and her daughters, and the horse-riding club situated on an old coconut plantation by the lagoon; and even being spotted by a little girl tugging at her mums dress saying ‘look it’s the ugly sister.’

Life here is rich, you just need to see the sun setting on coconut palms whose long trunks have been scarred pink with age to know what I mean.

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