After twenty hours of flying, I touched down in Vanuatu! The president of the archipelago unexpectedly passed away last week and his son was on my Air Vanuatu flight to Port Vila from Sydney. Miraculously, when we parked at the gate and all stood up, we quickly sat back down again to show our respect when the flight attendant asked us to be reseated. The Aussie and other tourists have an openness and warmth that, at home in the States, I feel have been unfortunately replaced in recent years by animosity and suspicion.
Port Vila is far less developed than I expected. There are many shops and restaurants on the street along the harbor, but they're not uniform at all and the streets and sidewalks are in disrepair. Tourists at night stick to being driven by prearranged shuttles. Apparently, tourism is still struggling since Hurricane Pam decimated much of the infrastructure a few years ago. Much has been rebuilt, but many of the major airlines still haven't brought their flights back.
Last night, I checked out the 24-hour open-air market. There were only a couple other tourists and the market was one of the more exotic I've experienced. Pineapples, few bananas, kava, tubular root vegetables, unfamiliar fruit, and so much bok choy! Women were running the show in island dress. I made the mile or so walk home up a winding street--when I arrived at my guesthouse, my host, Michael, and his daughter drove me around town a little and I'm so glad he did! Distances are farther than I thought and I would've gotten scared making the walk to town for dinner afterward if I hadn't been familiar with the area--and took a quick dip in the pool. Another guest from Poland had just returned from Pentecost Island, where I'm going next, and he had some really good ideas, though it may be a challenge to execute them.
Names are really big here. At the airport upon arrival, my name was written on a board for my transfer to my guesthouse--ALLYSON (the Y was written over an "i")--and when I pointed to my name, my driver restated it. At the guesthouse, Emily who showed me to my room kept repeating, "Miss Allyson." Later, at dinner, though many tables were open, the host asked me for my first name, and wrote it down. He showed me to my table where the server asked me, "What's your name?," shaking my hand as she said it, "Allyson," and told me she was Mary.
Something about this recognition of who people are, this calling them by their right names, fills my heart.