Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Turning 40 in Lamen Bay

Isabel took celebrating my birthday seriously; she wasn't interested in simply organizing a cake and meal in the evening, no, she'd planned a whole day of activities culminating in a feast with half the village.

The festivities commenced at 7am with a trip in the back of a pick-up truck to her family’s garden. The trip was memorable for the occasional low branch which threatened to decapitate the unwary, the drive along the grass runway where we waited for the plane to take-off and the diverse lush green bush we passed through en-route.
Isabel happily answered our gardening questions as we dug the dinner yam, picked the laplap leaves and attempted to recognise different varieties of yam, cassava, taro, kumara, kava, laplap and nuts. By the time we'd returned, laden with fruits and vegetables, the birthday pig had been dispatched.
In my mind, there's a big difference between the concept of a roast pig dinner and actually seeing the pig laying motionless but still warm on the grass. Still no time for sentimentality in Vanuatu, so the next few hours were spent in its preparation working with Ambata burning and scrapping off its hair under the watchful eyes of some older neighbours who frequently chipped in with advice, "tutting" and a few chuckles.A brief lunch then back to work, heating pumice stones in the fire, placing a few of them wrapped in laplap leaves in the pig's belly then weaving a coconut frond protective basket around the pig before covering it with the heated stones, plants, sheets and finally earth.

While the pig was roasting, Charlotta and Patty (from Phoenix, another yacht in the anchorage) were learning how to make laplap - lots of yam grating, though they both escaped the hard work when they grated their knuckles one too many times. After adding grated coconut the mixture was wrapped in laplap leaves and placed in its own heated stone oven.

Isabel is one of two female members of parliament and while the food was cooking she gave us some great insights into Vanuatu politics, the parliamentary system versus the traditional village organization as well as answering questions on the status of women in village life from Charlotta and Patty.

The preparations finished with the kava making, and when we returned a feast had appeared on the table including two birthday cakes; one from Charlotta and one from Vanessa, Isabel's daughter.Isabel took charge of the proceedings and I found myself in a bright island print shirt with speeches made in my honour by Isabel, the youthful chief Willy and the pastor during which I was presented with a garland of flowers, a walking stick (as I'm an "oldfela" now) and a fan (perhaps I'm smelly as well as old?). All very humbling and somewhat overwhelming given the effort everyone had made.

Each crew from the three yachts in the bay, were applauded as we downed kava and tucked into the meal to recover from the dishwater taste. Meanwhile the men disappeared for serious unlit shirtless kava drinking and the remainder of the guests tucked into the feast.

Thank-you once again Isabel, family and friends for welcoming me into your family and organizing such a memorable celebration. Your generosity, kindness and friendship has made our stay in Lamen Bay one of the highlights of the trip.

Lamen Bay, Epi: S16°35.73' E128°09.81

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