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Excerpt from
Letter 11

Kanton Island
February 25, 1992

This is really a strange place. We feel kinda like we are in the Twilight Zone. The supply boat was delayed last month because one of the passengers jumped overboard—a suicide—and they spent a day searching for him. BC went aboard the ship when it was here and said he would have jumped, too. It was packed with humanity, dogs, pigs, and all sorts of cargo, including hundreds of barrels of fuel lashed to the decks. People camped outside on the decks for the whole voyage to the outer islands—as long as two weeks. Two ships have sunk in the vicinity since December. One of them drifted by here with only the tip of the stern above water. We watched it all day, but it never got close enough to try to board.

Last week we had big excitement in the village. The headman’s wife went missing for two days. They came to us for help to find her, so BC organized a search with the dinghy and a big boat they use for fishing (it has our 25 HP motor on it because they don’t own one—on the island—go figure). There were about twenty of us searching, using the boats and a truck. Finally found her and got her back to the village. We decided it must be a domestic problem, and it was—a slight case of incest with a fifteen-year-old daughter. They seem to have gotten that all sorted out, and the girl is leaving on the supply boat to live with relatives in Tarawa. The husband and wife had a big party! He made a public apology, and life goes on. There was the usual singing, except this time family groups performed. BC and I got up and sang “For We Love Our Valley Home.” We were a big hit. They barbecued a pig. It was delicious. Is all that weird, or what? This ain’t Kansas, Toto.

Excerpt from
Letter 15

Solomon Islands, South Pacific
November 1992

Vanuatu is a strange country. A collection of numerous islands, big and small, but only two towns of any size—Port Villa on Efate and Lugganville on Espiritu Santo on the northern end of the group. The rest of the country is quite primitive, literally. There have been recorded incidents of cannibalism as recently as 1979, and most of the bush people live with none of the trappings of the twentieth century, except T-shirts and a few outboard motors. The same is true here in the Solomon Islands. It’s truly mind-boggling. Trading is the accepted method for getting fruit, veggies, lobster, fish, and any handicrafts. Money is not valuable because they have no place to spend it. They love T-shirts (old and new), old clothes and linens, perfume (!), soap, thread and sewing supplies, fish hooks, batteries (very important for flashlights), and balloons and candy for the kids. They are family-oriented and treat their children very well. They are not quite aware of the relative value of these foreign contraptions. A young man with two lobsters came by and wanted a radio cassette player—when we declined, he shrugged and said, “Okay. How about a ballpoint pen?” We accommodated him in a hurry.

While on Espiritu Santo, a Ni-Vanuatan took us way into the bush to a “kustom village,” a community that is living in the old tradition. We met a man named Jimmy Stevens, now in his seventies, who is a former revolutionary for Vanuatan Independence. He had spent some time in prison for his activities and had two sons killed in the fighting. Another son is now a high government official. Anyway, he worked with U.S. troops during WWII, and when we told him about ourselves, he broke into song. Try to picture us standing in a jungle clearing surrounded by naked women, men wearing only penis sheaths, dogs, pigs, chickens, and children of all ages, listening to “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” Amazing. They still do all their hunting with bows and arrows and slingshots. Needless to say, they have large gardens and eat mostly fruit, vegetables, and rice.