We’ve visited four of Vanuatu’s beautiful islands. We’re now in Port Vila experiencing the touristy city life, with ridiculous cover bands playing loudly on the harbor’s edge, gift shops filled with Chinese made souvenirs, and inappropriately dressed tourist girls. While I love our access to the waterfront showers, the delicious juice bar, and the amazing produce market, this is a scene that could be experienced in any country. Where we’ve come from in Anelcauhat, Aneityum and Port Resolution, Tanna, is another world, a world I’m so grateful to have seen.
We sailed first to Aneityum, the most southern island of the chain. We were welcomed graciously by the customs and immigration officials and by each person we met along our walks through town. We attended a feast and drank kava with the village while our kids played freely with the local kids. I watched a two year old as she ran with the big kids and then sat on her father’s hip as her mother answered our endless questions. I watched her dad chase her away from the dancing so no one would stumble over her. I chatted with her mother while she settled into her arms and sleepily nursed. The babies here were born at home, or sometimes at the village clinic, with the local midwife. They live in the arms of their caregiver until they’re old enough to run barefoot. It felt so familiar.
In rural Vanuatu, Attachment Parenting, Continuum Theory, and Elimination Communication aren’t know by such names, it is just parenting. These mothers never read anything by Dr. Sears or Alfie Kohn. There are no special support groups like La Leche League or Diaper Free Baby. There is no controversy about sleeping with your baby here. What made sense to me intuitively about parenting is simply the way it is here. And it’s lovely.
Port Resolution is a place where the fishing dads take their little boys with them in their canoes. In the villages around the harbor the babies are on their mama’s hips, or in the arms of an older sibling as the women go about their work. The village we spent the most time in is filled with smiling people, seemingly healthy, and undoubtedly happy. They are self sufficient, organic gardeners, foragers, and fishermen. They are connected to nature so closely that when I offered rice and other foods we carry on Convivia they looked blankly. They eat so locally that they wouldn’t know what to do with my rice and beans. They offered me their vegetables with no names and told me to “cook it like a vegetable.” My cookbooks have no recipes for taro, manioc, island cabbage, and vegetables with no names, yet I went home with a bag full and several ears of corn as well.
Many of the adults speak English, their village language, Bislama, and French, so we were welcome and able to ask questions when we visited. I asked a Natalie, a mother of a three year old, a six year old and a nine year old, about meeting her husband. With big smiles on both of their faces she told me that they met in Port Villa, but they were both from Tanna and her grandmother was from his village so that’s where she came to live.
Ruby and Miles spent a long time swinging with the local kids. When Ruby and I stayed in the village longer we were offered a tour of the gardens, given boiled corn to snack on, and fresh coconuts to drink from. Ruby sat and wove mats with a Ni-Vanuatan woman and our friend Amanda.
In both villages where we spent time our kids were as welcome as we were. When Miles had trouble drinking his coconut, a woman searched for the perfect piece of plant to make him a straw. When Ruby didn’t want to go on our hike a woman offered to bring her home to play with her own daughters while the rest of us walked onward. When Ruby cut herself a mother brushed her off and sent her back to play. Before I even acknowledged my children’s hunger or thirst they were offered something to taste and a coconut to drink from. When I worried that they were too rambunctious someone would inevitably say something like, “my kids are just like that.”
The Ni-Vanuatan men laugh when they work. The women smile together. They work together. Children fit seamlessly and joyfully into their community. I’ve read that they are among the happiest people in the world. This bit of Vanuatu is what I’ll remember.