Ready, Settle, Go!
We are very much in a ‘settling in’ period. After a little waiting and much getting ready, we have made in to Tanna and are now through the first term of the college year. Yet in every way we feel very new here and are doing what we can to settle in physically and culturally.
We arrived in March to find our house much as we had planned it minus some paint and cyclone shutters. We loved our new house straight away and are still very grateful for it. It is light and breezy inside with verandas where you can choose whether you would like to gaze out at the many blues of the Coral Sea or the greens of the rich foliage and distant hills.
We came to a house that sheltered us from the frequent heavy downpours, but with little to go in it other than the chairs and mattresses that we picked up in Port Vila. In less time than it takes a coconut to fall, woven mats appeared for our comfort and after about a week of observing us clambering for any way to get our things off the ground, Ps Yarwell and one of the students rustled up a hammer and saw and knocked together a few benches for us. In time our boxes from Australia arrived, and with the assistance of a fund-raiser back at our home church, we have been able to get someone here on Tanna to make us some furniture.
While life here is now on par with what many in Australia would regard as camping, we are slowly getting more settled and comfortable. When we first arrived every cardboard box that we found could significantly improve our standard of living and their deployment on the available floor space was the subject of much deliberation. Now our treasures come more slowly, but are of greater significance, with our prize acquisition being a bed on legs, which we haven’t yet tired of commenting on the convenience of.
Just today we marked out the site for our bathroom and toilet and we have planned out a new laundry space. With four small kids and the stomach bugs associated with moving to rural Vanuatu, our lives revolve around these spaces and we expect these new building projects to make a big difference. Having said that a good sign that we are naturalising already is that the kids are running to the toilet (or the toilet is running in their nappies) less-and-less.
The physical environment of Vanuatu is certainly a challenge, especially at this early stage. Life without mains electricity and having running water in just one outdoor tap is difficult for us Aussies. We didn’t grow up here and we bring with us our western assumptions about health and hygiene which only exist because of our privileged existence.
Having said that it is a challenge, we are extremely grateful for what we do have and see that we are blessed by the people here who have gone out of their way so many times to ensure that their new residents have the best of everything. Our one tap is a privilege as there is just one other tap for the whole of the college. We have to be a bit careful about what we say since we only have to mention that we plan to do something for it to be done the next day. We also recognise the support of our partners and family at home who in both big and small ways have made our move here possible. We thank God for what we have and the people he has given us.
The physical environment is just one aspect of our settling in. We also need to adapt to living amongst people who are so culturally different to us. On the physical front, building the bathroom, laundry and kitchen, acquiring enough furniture to get our boxes unpacked, and planting a garden will probably get us over the line in terms of feeling settled. Culturally however, there are no clear turning points, just shades of understanding.
If people just did things differently we could observe behaviours and acquire knowledge. But culture is bound up in entirely different ways of thinking with permeate patterns of conversations, decision making, assumptions about relationships, and every aspect of life. Every day we learn something new but also continue to be surprised by what people say, do, and expect. Sometimes understanding culture with limited language feels like trying to unravel a fuzzy ball of string by the light of a distant star.
If it is difficult for us, think also of our hosts. We at least have a background in thinking about culture and world-views from coming from a multi-cultural country, previous travel (including living in different parts of Vanuatu), and having taught in a cross-cultural setting in Northern Australia. But for many of the students and surrounding villagers, this is the first time that they have observed the ‘white man’ at close quarters. And white man can be a baffling beast indeed!
White man seems to improve things that already work. They have so much washing and put nappies on their babies all the time (not just in church!). They ‘herd’ differently and have unexpected rules for their children. They insist their kids need to rest when they are running around happily. They wash in the cold part of the day. They will pay for one expensive item but not something of lesser value. They seem to be continually surprised by the colours of the sunset. They name chickens. They seem to be tired and yet stay awake once it is dark. In short, while the white man can be friendly and generous, they can also have strange and unpredictable ways.
Yet we are blessed with Ps Yarwell and his wife who came across Australians while studying at Bible College. They understand that we will do things differently and not always understand their ways. They are gracious and patient with us and we feel greatly blessed by them through their help and insight.
Our ways have also been a blessing to them. Organisational tasks for the college which have been given to me (Tom) have been appreciated. Simple timetables and teaching sequences have been warmly welcomed and have changed the entire outlook of the college. So although cultural differences are hard, they are not insurmountable, and we ask that you pray that we continue to learn the ways of our new country and be blessed by it, as indeed we seek to be a blessing to others.
Our first newsletters were about getting ready to come to Tanna. We are now writing about getting settled, and probably will continue to for a while. The question is if and when we will get to a ‘go.’ In once sense life is all go. I am at the end of the first term and have been spending time out and about visiting mission fields. Margaret has began schooling the kids and her work in the home never stops. Yet at the same time we are still struggling to get on with the tasks at hand because we are still painting, building, and spending time and energy on inefficient tasks. Culturally too, we are still unsure and might misjudge situations and so not work as effectively as we other wise could.
We need to think through what ‘go’ actually is in a cultural sense. We weren’t invited here to be ni-Vanuatu. We were invited here to bring with us the benefits of our educations, different perspectives, and skills. Yet it is difficult to apply these things without a good understanding of the way that the people we are ministering to will think about them and apply them.
Please pray for us as we settle in and move towards a go. Ask our gracious Father who is the source of all good things to give us a settled and stable home-life and the insight to minister effectively to his chosen here on Tanna.