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April 2018

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After School Vistors

The smell of cinnamon buns was wafting through the house and making everyone hungry. None of the girls that were bouncing around my kitchen had ever had a cinnamon bun before, so we were excited to share them. Early this morning, when my little girls went off to school, they asked me if it was okay if they brought some friends home to play. Being the awesome mom that I am and never wanted to miss a chance to win points with my kids I enthusiastically said “you bet”!

A few hours later piles of kids poured through my front door. This was not a few after school friends! I was pretty sure they had brought the entire school home with them! The girls were giggling as they took off their blue and yellow uniforms and folded them neatly across tables and chairs. It was too hot to keep the uniforms on and most the girls had a change of clothes with them. After quickly stripping their skirts they ran down to the ocean with both my daughters in tow and splashed and swam. The radio had sent out an extra large wave warning, so the girls thought that was the perfect invitation to go and play.

Squealing, and screaming and laughing could be heard over the crash of the giant, frothy waves. I went down to watch them and make sure everyone stayed safe, but who was I kidding? These kids could swim better and further and than I ever would be able to. Swimming was like breathing, and they had been doing it since they were tiny.

I headed home and a few minutes later, the group of girls came back too. They were all shivering and cold. My girls quickly offered them a hot shower (most of which none had ever had a hot shower before) and sometime before my gas tank had been completely emptied of it’s expensive liquid, the girls all tumbled out. They wrapped themselves up in every dry towel I had and began to play basketball outside.

I was fascinated by the large group, and sat staring  out the window at them, not quite sure what to do. I had been expecting a few little girls to come home with mine and had made a little snack of cut up pineapple and watermelon for them to share but that was not going to do it!

I quickly thought up a plan, I’d do a cooking class. I told them all that today we were going to make cinnamon buns. They were delighted and threw the basketball through the hoop one last time before running inside. I tried to ignore the puddle of water all over the floor and the messy kitchen, telling myself that they wouldn’t notice either- so neither should I. I divided them into groups of 4 and  taught them how to make the tasty, sticky treat. I don’t speak Bislama very well, and they don’t speak English very well, but we did alright as I mimed and acted out exactly what steps happened next.

They stirred, and kneaded and rolled and sprinkled and cut until every pan I had was covered in cinnamon buns waiting to be cooked. Every girl there cooks on a fire in her village. None of them had stoves or ovens, so they were mesmerised by everything in the kitchen. Giggling each time I gave them an instruction or pulled out a new dish.

As the cinnamon buns cooked I told the girls it was time to clean up the messy kitchen. It had already been a disaster with dishes piled high in both sinks, before we had started and now it was even worse. Those girls only needed to be told once and they took their job very seriously. The counter was wiped about a hundred times, and each dish was washed, dried and within 20 minutes the kitchen was immaculate.

Little girls with frizzy black hair, and dark brown skin, sparkling white teeth and beautiful smiles were all being dropped off now that it was pitch black and drizzling with rain. I wondered if their parents even knew where they were today, or wondered what took them so long to come home from school, and I wonder what magic will happen in my house tomorrow!

Going to School

I must be crazy…

Their yellow and blue uniforms lay folded on the bed and I shook my head wondering what I was thinking. I have been an avid homeschooler for the last 17 years. My oldest daughter went to one semester of high school in grade 12 but other than that, not a single one of my kids had ever set foot in a traditional school building. And now here I was and in the morning both my 9 and 11 year old would be going to school for the first time.

Their smiles, and absolute amazement when they asked if they could attend the local village school and I said yes,  made everyone laugh in the family. We shopped for the matching uniforms together and filled their backpacks with pencils and paper. I’m not really sure why I said yes, but it felt like the right thing at the time.

At home in Canada there is a tremendous amount of pressure and shame if a mother enrolls her child in school and then takes them out early. The opposite is true here. Kids drop in and out of school as quickly as flies. If they can’t afford school one month they are out, and if they can the next, they are in. I’m sure it isn’t very helpful for their educational experience, but for my purposes it worked quite nicely. No upset teachers or frustrated principles. Pay $50, buy the a cute little uniform and voila they can go to school for as long or short as they want. Yes, this was going to do just nicely.

I explained to my friend over text, that I didn’t sign them up for school because homeschooling had disappointed me or because I was overwhelmed. Quite the opposite, actually. Our homeschool school house has been a diverse, exciting, and fun learning place for all my kids. I think that I signed them up because it feels like it would be a great homeschooling experience to go to a local village school.  Isn’t it funny that I view ‘real’ school as part of my homeschooling experience? I’m laughing, that’s for sure.

When they finally got out the door to school, they were scared and excited. They arrived in time for classes to start and both got settled nicely in their classes. During the class the teacher, who rules with a stick and threats of the principles office, was extra nice to the two little girls, who of course, were the only white kids in the entire school.

Emma said that lots of kids didn’t have lunches so she shared hers. This was amusing I thought because I hadn’t sent her with a lunch, I was up with a sick baby all night and so the only thing I could find to shove in their backpacks was an apple and two cookies. She shared her lunch?

Frizzy haired, brown skinned girls and boys lined up to talk with the girls. Sarah and Emma had plenty of friends to spend every minute with, and Emma who is only 9 had little boys finish the homework that she was having trouble with, so that when she returned to her desk it had all been scribbled in for her 🙂 Priceless. Their first day of school was priceless. At lunch when the girls wanted to play the local game ‘butterfly’ they had at least 20 kids line up to play with them. I don’t think making friends will be a problem for these young ones.

There was a sad spot in the day when the boys in the class were talking too much and so as a punishment the teacher told them they missed going out for lunch or recess. About an hour after lunch, Emma the poor dear, who hadn’t had breakfast or lunch yet, just couldn’t bear the hunger any longer and began sobbing at her desk. When the teacher saw her crying she asked her what was wrong and after finding out that she was hungry and wasn’t used to skipping meals sent her outside to eat. The kindergarten teacher saw her going to eat by herself and left her entire class unattended while she joined Emma for a snack, and kept her company.

Once the two older girls heard about the little girls going to school they wanted to go too. Their friend down the road told them about a school that teaches 1/2 an hour of math and then your choice of: basketball, piano, sewing, cooking, fire dancing, weaving, story telling, drama, traditional dancing, beach volleyball, and art. It cost $1 for the year. I was sold- and suddenly not just 2 of my girls, but 4 of them were starting school for the first time!

Walking home will take them an hour, but they will be with lots of other children who are walking home too. And at nighttimes when they get home from school we do the ‘real’ learning, that they would have been doing during the daytime- exploring beaches, researching turtles, and swimming with the fish- oh and taking their college prep courses online.

Back at home, during the hot, humid day, I alternated between, sitting at home holding my 2 year old who was sick and chasing after my 4 year old who told me plainly “school’s garbage, I miss my sisters.” I agreed with him. It was no fun being without my kids today.

I think I can last for a few weeks, and then I am pretty sure it will be back to normal in our fun, busy school house. But until then, I think they will have a memorable, and spectacular experience going to school on this beautiful island, and I think it was the right thing to let them all go to school this month!

One Year in Vanuatu

I can’t believe it’s already been one year. In some ways it feels like a lifetime and in other ways it seems as though we just arrived. The experiences that we’ve had have been irreplaceable. I made a video to celebrate our 1 year anniversary, on the adventure of a lifetime! If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been blogging as regularly, it’s because I was crazy sick and had to be flown to Australia for medical help, and then because I started writing a book! Stay tuned, I’ll let you know when it’s ready to read 🙂