Archive for November, 2009
November 11th, 2009
The article [linked here] published a week or so ago is the last interview we [Edenhope] will ever give to the media. It is interesting only for the fact it was with Marc Neil-Jones, publisher of the Daily Post in Vanuatu. Marc is a courageous journalist; he’s also a good writer. We have no more to say to the world at large, and our specific connections to it are attenuating rapidly. No further purpose can we contemplate in this despoiled …entropic paradigm.
Once we establish the Project in the bush, further public contact will only be through the local community [and only from time to time] – because that is the MO of the relationship we want to pursue.
Of course our view of the contemporary world is not pretty. How often have I said it is a lunatic asylum? Even here, in the farthest reaches of Vanuatu, it’s not really different. What we do particularly enjoy here, though, is that there’s much less consonance with the frantic nonsense most of you are accustomed to in the country called Amerika [and its allies], where it attains its shrillest dissonance in the arrogance that still passes for the American dream. How many realize that the pride of their forbearers has so deteriorated it is well past the point of no return on its inexorable journey to the destiny of all fatal diseases?
But this is not where we wish to dwell. There is too much going on here… Let’s see; what first….. Tim Tye arrived to ‘check out’ the situation. He was Just in time to meet the Forcinelli family who were now making plans to go to Aneityum, the southernmost island in this archipelago. They actually left on Tim’s fourth day with us.
However, this did not occur before the three of us, Frank Ruth and I, returned to Wunpuko to make a final determination about the land we leased - Frank now had a better handle on it than either Ruth or I. It must be noted that neither of us have ever been able to see all of it [the land]; and due to that may have taken for granted, or assumed more than we should…. So, on this final reconnoiter, we went up one side, crossed the crater and followed the ridge north, then east and then south. This much of the trek was just for the three of us. Johnsta and Freeman continued east, to stay in Freeman’s cabin and catch up with us in the morning. Then we would truly begin the investigative purpose of our trip. Well, we got lost. By the time we recovered our bearings and continued again, we began to run out of light. So for prudence sake we decided to camp in the forest even though we were ’supposed to be close to’ the campsite, our destination for that night. The downhills are as much, or more, of a challenge as the rises, and would have been quite treacherous for us in the dark. Frank, far more able than we, went on and returned some thirty minutes later with some things from the campsite to make us more comfortable. Night had now fallen and the forest became quiet.
Next day, less refreshed than optimal but sure game for whatever was to come, we got to the camp and settled in before exploring the area where Frank’s family had stayed for almost ten days. The whole of the campsite, except for their personal items, was intact. The two four-man tents were perfectly erected and the site well-managed. There was a running stream just thirty meters down a path he had made; nice enough for a campsite ….but wholly inadequate for the village campus we have envisioned, just not enough level area or water to make a comfortable village.
From here we were only twenty minutes or so from the site where Ruth and I had spent a couple of nights some months earlier. This time, though, we explored up-river and found a specially beautiful pool to bathe in while Frank and the others went on to a 100 foot waterfall we could certainly not reach. The problem was similar here, as well; just not enough level ground nor water for the whole village and relative quality of life we were seeking. The ultimate issue, though, was always the water even though the stream was still flowing nicely fifty meters below the campsite [where we swam last time].
Next morning, early on the third day, having exhausted the possibility of the two areas our village committee had envisioned for us [and we, too, I hasten to add], we went on to the as yet unexplored, southernmost part of our leased land. This would be the last possibility within the leased area given to the Project, against its south-western border, and near the river. It was where a village had existed many decades ago, perhaps even as much as a century earlier; in fact so long ago none of the present community knew who had been there then, or where they went …for they left no record. In the present event, precious little of their life has survived, though a practiced eye could see certain of their traces.
By late morning, the rains that had been threatening since dawn began with a drizzle. In the afternnon the light rain turned into heavy showers. Ruth had not worn sandals on the whole of the trip so far; now both of us went barefoot. We found it safer, especially along the muddy tracks we were following in the somber and soaking forest. We both have developed a tolerance for going barefoot from the many mornings we exercised barefoot at the golf course.
When we arrived at the site of the old village by mid-to-late afternoon, Frank set about a great fire; he started it with Cowrie gum and bamboo. Then the three of them went off for water; it is/was, of course, the greatest of the issues we had so far encountered. When they came back from the stream some twenty/twenty-five minutes later, Frank announced it was much further down than was practical and so not a source for the village.
In the warming infra-red glow of the big fire, we dried out and reflected on the realities we were facing. We were in an enchanted forest, but bereft by our discoveries, tired, even a bit exhausted. But we in the magic of being surrounded by great trees and gorgeous sites where we could build…. but there is no water.
Then we turned to whatever food was left or had found en route [like bananas]. When the tent was erected, we two were the chosen to have it; the other three used mats and tarp for protection. We settled in for the night.
When morning came on the fourth day it brought with it an impending finality. Yet our zest was renewed and it was only a short distance to the lower reaches of the land beyond the present Edenhope border, exactly where the rivers from the south and west converge. As we approached, it was obvious how much more appropriate as a natural boundary this additional piece would be for Edenhope.
But! we were advised by both Johnsta and Freeman, this land belongs to the football club cattle project [they have eight cows]. The community had handed over this land to them some seven years ago. It was difficult for us to understand how such commitments are treated by this community. That it should become a question just never occurred to them. The situation was respected and that was that, so it was with some embarassment that our two guides reacted when I advised them that without this additional land, we would be forced to reconsider making Edenhope here [no matter how painful to us, or them, frankly - as it resolved in our western mindset]. Although we now had a better understanding that of the difficulties of our land presented for the campus at the heart of our project, we did appreciate the depth of implication for the community.
Anyway, at the first plateau-precipice, still way above the river boundary, we stopped to drink green coconuts and enjoy the view to the village and the sea beyond. Descending still further, we caught the first glimpses of the lower lands which lay in broad shelves [precisely where our Village should have been, and had to be] easily reaching the fulsome river below - the most natural boundary we could have [the pictures we have attached here do not do it justice; it is simply ….beautiful].
After a refreshing pause by the river, and with a new resolve since there really was a solution, we resumed the final day’s effort to get us back to the village. First we had to cross the river [no big deal] and then up the steep 150m or so climb out that would put us on a trail over the last five kms down to the village from the Wunpuko bush where we now stood. At times on all fours, it was only Ruth’s helping hand that stopped me from sliding many more than the few meters I had already slipped. The physical fatigue was significant by then.
When we reached the village mid to late afternoon, it was well behind Frank and Johnsta who had sprinted the last two kms because our boat, that they had been able to see half way down, had apparently broken loose from its mooring. As it turned out, Barito and Alix had seen it come loose [it broke the anchor line chain] and swam it back to provisional safety. [Ruth and I were much too exhausted to be of any help]. Moreover, I was anxious to meet with senior committee members and put our new and final demand to them right away.
Frank, having already made it clear that his family was more determined than not to leave Wunpuko, nonetheless prevaricated some. That it was not yet cast in stone was why he chose to come back and see for ourselves the difficulties we were looking at ….and thus be able to make a final assessment of its suitability for Edenhope. Frank was able to move about the land much more than we, but his judgment was already colored by the negative circumstances that had developed [this needs more explanation; we’ll get to it anon].
The stakes had once again grown exponentially. And the more acute they became, the more aggressive the negotiating stance I would take [which is not normally the kind of leverage I exert on anyone I respect]. It was obvious that I was also causing distress amongst our friends there. And it became especially offensive when I said we would give them only seven days to make a decision: either the cattle go ….or we will go!
When we left next morning, there were heavy hearts everywhere.
Once out of the bay, the water was so rough that it took us ten and a half hours to make the trip that normally takes four or five hours. [In our haste to return to Luganville and really too tired to make proper decisions, we disregarded an earlier decision to wait out extreme, rough weather]. In the first hour, Ruth got caught unprepared for a strong crash from the top of a three meter swell; her feet were not on the floor when we hit and she got the backlash of it painfully in her lower back. Now, three weeks later, she is only beginning to be mobile again.
Now we must clarify what we left out earlier: A month ago, after only two weeks in Wunpuko village, Frank’s fourteen-year-old daughter was assaulted by a twenty-two-year-old boy in a wild attempt to have sex with her. For whatever reason, he failed - perhaps it was her determination or his fear - whatever, he ran off. Nonetheless he had both hurt and frightened her in his vicious, but bungled attempt. The ugly incident that could have been much worse. We are grateful it wasn’t….
Violence is not a foreign concept here, though only occasionally as complicated and deadly as in more repressed social systems. But it is always ugly; and to those of Edenhope, abhorrent. When we learned about the incident by teleradio, it was already Friday afternoon. But by the end of that day, we had arranged for a squad of policemen [and a flight diversion to Lajmoli airstrip] to carry us to Wunpuko. On Monday, early in the afternoon, Honore’s boat met us at Lajmoli and an hour later we were in Wunpuko.
The formal investigation didn’t really get underway until next morning. But then it was completed quickly enough so that on Tuesday afternoon, a meeting of the council of chiefs was called and we were summoned to it. One has to appreciate the way such communities here operate, especially one as cohesive as Wunpuko. And you have also to remember that almost everyone in this village is related either by blood or marriage. Add to this the absolute authority and decision-making of the chief, and there is great potential for the vagaries of mankind to go where he will ….and that is not always a straight line. But there is nothing ’silly’ about the way the system works here…
It became apparent that one’s own expectations and frames of reference don’t easily apply in a situation like this. Just one added comment to establish another set of layers to the already thick soup on the table; more than that would be too much to go into here. It is this: the young man was recently [three months ago] bought a wife in what was no doubt a deeply considered decision by his family to try to settle him down; he has been a recurring problem in the village for some time. The new wife came from Torba, the northernmost province. [One such woman is usually bought with the equivalent of about eight hundred dollars in Custom here - and it is considered a most significant event. Apparently, the family’s hopes have continued to be somewhat dashed. But what of her dreams?
Well, with the winding up of the investigation and the assimilation of distortions in the community over the unhappy event, the young man was arrested [again, informally] and spent the night with the police in their room at the guest house. It was understood he was going to be brought back to Luganville to answer the charges against him.
Locked up then, as they say here, in #6 ….he was subsequently released on bail on his own recognizance [with daily reporting]. The case was remanded to the Supreme Court where his plea will be heard, and then he will be sentenced. We do not know what the outcome will be, but he did admit his behavior to the investigators. A footnote in passing:- we brought this new wife with him to town; she is expected to be wherever her husband is, even in this civilization on the edge of the Pacific Ocean …and the world.
The day we left - the police, myself, prisoner and wife - for Luganville that Wednesday, Frank and his family were heading up to the bush to camp on the land. Hopefully they would establish a homesite for us all there. But the experience they’d gone through hadn’t worn off. And the conclusions that thereupon settled in on what might otherwise have been even-handed evaluations were, after all, quite negative. That Frank, too, was fined by the chief for wielding a bush knife in such a way that certain members of the community were frightened [or was it ashamed?] continued to rankle within him. Of course it was understandable in the circumstances, even his anger. But the community had also dealt with it….
The entire experience was probably best borne by young Frankie Jane who readily got through and over the incident. It did, though, turn the overall experience for Frank [and his small tribe] into uncertainty. He never quite came to terms with it.
So, with his judgment somewhat impaired, and ours in sympathy with his, the equanimity of decision normally characteristic of our relationships here, was also now tainted by the heightened emotions. However, it must be stated and it must be understood: the land we had just seen – and really needed – was not purposely withheld from us by guileful negotiators [as Frank saw it]; it was just not ever considered ….simply because it had already been committed.
Can it be worked out? Of course it can, and probably will be, especially because of the essential goodwill we have for each other. But the answer will take more time because it is to serious to considered without examining and solving its implications for the long term. Maybe in a couple of days or so - three weeks later - we will have the decision we hope, but for now it will remain unknown, because that’s just how it is. The community must be given time to be the generous people they also wish to be. And most of all this loving community must be allowed to exercise within their own terms with dignity, whatever the issue ….and however questionable the quandary of choice between ‘cattle and us’ may appear, we must shed our expectations now and leave them outside [like old shoes]. In view of this, finally proper reflection, you will appreciate why we made apology to our loving friends [for the strong-arm negotiation we had resorted to].
On the last reconnoitering trip then, when the three of us went up, Frank’s family remained in town. They had really ‘left’ Wunpuko and were already half way to a decision to leave. It was a fretful time for us all, and especially Tim, who arrived ten days ago, after our return - at a loaded moment of transition for us all. But so it is; we live and learn….
Undoubtedly, the next report will carry a verdict [or two].
Love from us all.