Friday, August 17, 2007

Adventure one ends - now for a new beginning in the UAE

Well, we have loved Vanuatu and our work here. But it was time to move on. Ron was asked to take up a position in the United Arab Emirates - which we have accepted.

Follow our adventures (?) in the UAE on our new blog:

Cheryl and Ron of Arabia !!!!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Farewell Vanuatu

Well, our time in Vanuatu has come to an end.

By the end of this week we will be in Abu Dhabi. Ron will be working with the Arab Emirates Education Council, through a consortium called GEMS (Global Education Management Systems) as a Design Specialist, Leadership and Organisation. The job is to lead a team of consultants working with a school in Al Ain. THe school is undertaking a major school improvement project -new curriculum, new processes and management etc. The consultants will be providing advice, professional development and mentoring of the school staff and leadership through this process. Contract is a 2 year contract.
We're both very excited at the prospect of working in another culture, another country and meeting lots of other like minded people.

Leaving Vanuatu was a tough decision. We had made so many friends, and were achieving so much. To all our friends, colleagues, and members of the volunteer community, we say a very big THANK YOU for the support, friendship and hard work. You made our stay in Vanuatu just absolutely perfect. If our stay in the UAE is as good, we will count ourselves very fortunate indeed.

Follow our stay in the UAE on a new Blog at:

Cheers Everyone!!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cruising the South China Sea

We finally got the chance for an “off-island” break recently. We had a lovely holiday starting with 2 days in Auckland - it didn't rain (! ! !) and they were two lovely days! Cheryl reacquainted herself with where she used to live and bought some classy Italian sandals (with heels!) on sale and we shopped madly for some new clothes for both of us.

After Auckland we flew off to Singapore for another 2 days of shopping and city life. We love Singapore - it is so orderly and well organised! (not at all like anything in the developing world). However there is poverty and people work hard to earn a living and there is a real current of deprivation under all the glitz and glamour. We noted it all and then just had a nice time in a lovely hotel and took in all the sights just as any tourist would.

And now onto the ship - the Superstar Gemini. We arrived to board and we were sure that everyone getting on the ship was in their dotage and thought 'Oh God - what have we done!' It was all gold and granite and very 'Asian deco' - and in the centre of the ship.... a Casino! We did notice there were hardly any children and thought this had to be good!

As it happened there were, of course, people our age and with similar interests and we met some lovely travellers from Canada and New Zealand and a heap of Aussies mostly from Western Australia. We settled into a lazy life of cocktails by the pool, being waited on for every whim and filling our time with nothing but sheer indulgence. The restaurants were sublime and the service and food fantastic.

There were only about 460 cruisers on board and I don't know where they were for most of the trip because we never felt crowded and rarely had to wait for anything. In fact there were more crew on board than passengers and we felt the benefit of that throughout the trip. If we had wanted to there were activities arranged for every moment of the day - movies, craft activities, dancing lessons, mahjong, cards, bingo, silly fun things like coconut bowling and sarong tying, line dancing, shuffleboard and deck quoits etc. and the cruise staff were enthusiastic and fun and so easy to get along with, nothing was too much for them to do to ensure we enjoyed ourselves. We did however choose not to do too many of the activities but took advantage of the gym, the spa and massage, the hairdresser and mostly the pool and pool bar! The cabaret and musical performances were very good and there was a troupe of Chinese acrobats, jugglers and contortionists who were sensational performers.

We had booked the cruise with some trepidation in light of the recent publicity of cruises as floating poker machine palaces with an accompaniment of Aussie yobo boozy louts who didn't know how to behave! There was no evidence of any bad behaviour or boozy indulgence (other than our own) and the whole trip was thoroughly pleasant, comfortable and luxurious!

Koh Samui in Thailand was the next stop after a day out of Singapore at sea. It is an island off the coast of Thailand. We did a day trip to the small town where the ship anchored. The resorts must keep the economy of the island afloat - the town had one cheap clothing shop after another, with a few furniture and souvenir places dotted throughout. The other cruisers booked rides on elephants and monkey shows, but we decided to just do a short visit to town and return to the ship. Ron went off to have a massage and Cheryl returned to the ship for more laying about around the pool and winding down – too easy.

After another day on the 'high seas' we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon - in fact everyone still called it Saigon when we were there. We chose to do a tour as the city has millions of people and we had no idea where we might go and what to do. As it turned out the tour was great - we visited the Regional Museum, had a ride in a pedalshaw (bike style rickshaw) - along with another 100 people from the cruise which presented a really funny sight! - visited the reunification palace where the north and south of Vietnam were reunited after the war and heard lots of history about the war and it's impact on Vietnam and development there. We also went to a factory where they produce some beautiful pieces of art. We bought a picture of some women planting rice in a field. The interesting thing about it is the picture is a mosaic of crushed duck shells in different colours and it is quite intricate and beautiful, and all handmade and finished by people who probably work for a week for less than the painting cost.

Another day at sea and then we visited Tioman Island, just off Malaysia. It was really just a resort island and would be a lovely place to go for a honeymoon or for that 'get away from everything' type holiday. We visited the island for a couple of hours and returned to the ship.

Then it was back to Singapore for another couple of days. We returned shopping to Chinatown and the ‘Little India” as well as Arab Street. A visit to the night Zoo was a must we were told and it was great. Lots of nocturnal animals all wandering about doing their things in the semi-light. In this artificial twilight you can’t see any of the fences and barriers so it was like we were walking / riding right next to them –lions, tigers, elephants, tapirs, etc etc. All capped by an amusing live show with some of the animal handlers.

Back on the plane, and home via an overnight stop in Auckland. The only down-side of the holiday was all the time you spend in airport lounges and queues waiting. But all was well worth it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Just another week

Well, it's been more than our usual 2 weeks since we updated the blog. tut-tut!

That's what happens when you get busy. -not that it's been all work -the social calendar has had a hammering too. But all in all it's been a busy month.

All in all,once you've been anywhere for over 6 months doing whatever, it's almost like --another day -work, sleep eat etc. But we do get to do this -- AND play in one of the loveliest settings, and amongst the lovliest people.

I started back at school - teaching year 13 statistics (hate that! -and a HUGE class of 35 students which makes for a LOT of marking when you set assignments etc). I also have a year 12 - that I like- because it's an easy roll, I don't have to put too much preparation, there's not so much pressure and we can have a bit of fun - AND the class is relatively small (25).

My VET project is ticking along -agonisingly slowly, but progressing nevertheless. I've scourged a few writers backs, used the cattle prod, done lots of begging and pleading and generally boosted egos to get the product coming. And still more to go.

However, on the ego-tripping side I scored a major coup recently. Using my former Royal Life Saving Society contacts I got them to fund a trainer to fly over here and set up a train the trainer network amongst schools and teachers and NGOs (that work with young people) -all at RLSSA's expense. All I have to do is organise this end and come up with a few bucks from the Ministry to fund the room hire and catering etc. Hopefully this will happen by the end of June.

As I type, it's raining -again- And while I know you would probably kill for a few inches of same, it's getting to be really tiresome over here. Haven't been able to get to the beach for weeks. My suntan has faded back to an Aussie winter hue! The rain here varies from drip drip to absolute bucketing for hours on end. Never mind the pipeline from Far North Qld to the Murray Darling -- a pipeline from here would be enough for the whole east coast!

Last fortnight (14-15th Feb) Cheryl and I celebrated my 56th Birthday -with a few friends at a French Restaurant here. A few of us had birthdays around the same time so there were about 20 of us. Great night. And it was also -to the hour - Cheryl and my 20th anniversary of meeting -at Penrith tennis club. SO many years -and still just a moment ago. We had a lovely night.

Cheryl too has been busy. They had 51 challengers come back from the islands mid February. This requires a de-briefing, full reporting and closure process over a week. Big busy time. Then at the end of this, the Program Director and Cheryl had to prepare for a major conference the PD was attending in Sydney. The whole Youth Challenge organisation was getting together in Sydney for 4 days. Reports, presentations, financial presentations, etc all required in the short space of time between finishing the closure process and the PD taking off to Sydney.

And we've begun a mission to try and set up a Youth Leadership Centre (we're calling it the Vanuatu Youth Training And Leadership Centre (VYTAL Centre) and at the same time find YCIV new premises. Their current space is about 45 sq m for a staff of 6, with up to 50 others coming in and out writing reports, getting training in IT, Life Skills, Job Seeking etc etc. SO>>>> if anyone over there knows a wealthy sponsor who would be willing to become a partner with YCIV in setting up a Youth Leadership Centre for Vanuatu, we'd love to hear about them.

You may also have heard that there was a State Of Emergency declared over here last night (Sunday 4th March). However, this is all a tiny corner of Vila -some distance from us. -And it's an inter-island faction dispute that isn't spilling over into the general community and is being well contained by the local constabulary and armed forces. We drove through the affected area this morning (on our way home from an overnight stay out of town) -and it seemed very settled. All here is quiet, peaceful and safe. And apart from that, the constant rain has a remarkable dampening effect on street gatherings - Ni-Vanuatu people just don't like getting drenched all the time and this really cuts down on the numbers willing to gather in groups! It's a bit like the Redfern riots -didn't affect many people at all outside of Redfern!

that's all for now. See you soon!

Sunday, January 21, 2007


The underwater pictures in this entry are courtesy of Mike. He and Bec spent hours snorkeling the waters of Vanuatu taking pictures of fish and coral. They took some lovely pics and it was hard to decide which ones to use. The swimmer feeding the black damsels is Bec.

We have spent many pleasant hours floating around in our fins, goggles and snorkels just watching the fish play and eat.

The Neptune is a tourist boat that takes people for a 3 hours trip out of Port Vila to Paradise Cove for fish feeding and then back in behind Iririki Island to finish the afternoon off. It is an exceptionally pleasant, and not too expensive, afternoon. The crew of the boat are all local NiVanuatu people.

On reaching Paradise Cove one of the crew throws chunks of bread into the water and you see some large red fin bass and coral trout leap up and snatch the bread as it hits the water. They are quite big fish and spectacular to watch. The spectacle doesn’t end there. We all don our flippers, snorkels and goggles and drop off the back of the boat into the water, taking some bread with us to feed the fish. As soon as we hit the water we are besieged by hundreds of black damsel fish and other beautiful tropicals in an amazing array of fabulous colours. They come right up and eat out of your hands. The children on the trip are just screaming with delight – not to mention the adults who are nearly jumping out of the water in fright as the damsels nibble on assorted body parts!

Another great spot is Hideaway Island where the fish come right up to the beach and there are plenty of reefs to glide over and watch below. Our last trip to Hideaway saw 13 of us piled into the truck to come home. We took some people over and met others there and by the time we came home we had quite a gathering. It is common to see truckloads of local people coming and going but not so common to see a truck load of volunteers! Even the locals were having a good laugh at us on the way home. You could never do it in Australia without being arrested! Mind you Ron was driving very carefully because it had also started to rain! Too bad for the passengers in the tray – Willy got his goggles and snorkel out !!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Tanna and Mt Yasur

Your feel it first - - - - -through your feet. A vibration, a shudder. An instant later you see a plume of smoke, and the first of the rising column of exploding lava. Then the sound hits you. A deep rumble in a wave of sound and you feel it again – in your chest, in your stomach. And finally there it is, a huge spout of lava pieces rising fifty, sixty metres into the air. Pieces the size of golf balls, pieces the size of a small car. Molten rock changing shape as the airstream has its effect. Some we’ve spoken to have said the chunks of lava sometimes actually go over their heads and land on the side of the volcano behind them. We can see the evidence of this with black rock everywhere. We’re happy this is not happening today.

We’re 390m above sea level on the top of Mt Yasur on the island of Tanna around 250Km south of Vila. We stand on the edge of a 2 tiered crater, looking down into its mouth. In front of us is another shallower crater, and then, the throat of the volcano with its (currently) 3 vents. Whilst we cannot actually see the lava bed, we don’t need to, There is enough here to be awesome without it. All we can see around us is black ash and rock. The carpark is over 300m from the crater and 150m lower. It also is strewn with the detritus of eruptions. There are slabs of cooled lava up to 2 metres long scattered over 300m from the base.

On our drive to the volcano we crossed the ash plain north west of the volcano. The prevailing winds here are from the south east, so this is where most of the ash from the volcano lands. It is some 3km wide and crossing it we circumvent the volcano’s base. Occasionally you will see the adventurous ash-boarding down the slopes. There are rocky outcrops here, evidence that, in the not too distant past, there were solid lava flows here. It’s all very pre-historic. And yet, a number of villages are quite close.

We visited two of villages during our stay here. One, called Tapu (we think) allowed us to see the men of the village doing some of their kustom dancing. Fascinating to watch – and their dance brings echoes of the volcano as they stamp their feet in unison, making the ground vibrate. They also show us some firemaking, using Hibiscus wood and finally entertain us with flute playing. The old man with the flute is almost mystical, playing from his perch up in the Banyan tree as the children watch, mesmerised.

The second village is one belonging to the John Frum Cargo cult. Every Friday, they gather from sunset to play music and dance until dawn. This village is a recent split from a larger village so the dancing is not as spectacular as we’ve heard. Nevertheless a fascinating insight into the culture of this island and its people. And I find I have a link to them. For they believe that, one year, on February 15 (my birthday), John Frum will come and deliver them a cargo containing all they will ever need. I observe that, in their simplicity and abundance of food, in the way they all work together with so very little conflict, they probably don’t need much more.

Such was our stay on Tanna.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

December - and some quirky things

Well, it’s been a hectic month for both of us.

Cheryl has been flat out at Youth Challenge upgrading training materials, finding a new place for orientation programs and hopefully a new office location - AND getting ready for the 45 challengers who arrive next week. We had one of the group leaders stay with us for a few days recently. Johnny is a great bloke with a lovely sense of humour and considerable talent. Hearing him speak Bislama with that thick Scottish brogue makes me wonder how on earth the villagers on Tanna will cope!

I’ve all but wrapped up at Malapoa for the year and yesterday ran the last 2 day workshop for the year of my TVET project. This one was to train the Ni-Van writers in MSWord, to complete a peer review of the curriculum they have written and to plan the contents of their teaching-learning and assessment booklets. This project will continue next year –just to give me something to do.

And amidst all this we manage to get to the beach / a local resort pool / have dinner with friends / have a BBQ / visit an island etc.

One of the downsides of being part of the volunteer community here is that we regularly have to farewell people we have become close to. Recently we saw Don and Carol off back to Perth. Don had spent 12 months working on a project to extend primary schools on some of the islands –building extra classes, upgrading resources etc. They are a lovely couple and we will miss them.

We’re really looking forward to having Mike and Bec arrive for Christmas. Having some family here will be lovely. Hopefully the weather will continue to be reasonably mild for them. So far we’ve had very few really hot days –though the humidity is getting up into the 90%s regularly.

The pictures on this blog entry are a collation of just SOME of the quirky – interesting – funny things we’ve noted about Vanuatu. Click on a collage to enlarge it!