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  • Aaron Hilliker posted an article
    Summary: RPCV Frances Loeb talks a little bit about living in Erromango. see more

    Summary: RPCV Frances Loeb talks a little bit about living in Erromango.  

    Author: Frances Loeb


    As I was getting to know my new community on Erromango, they were getting to know me too. We were both finding things about each other that were surprising. And I was finding island life fascinating.


    -I felt my first earthquake while eating dinner with my host family one night. Afterwards, my family told me about a time after an earthquake when there was a tsunami warning and the whole village carried mats up and slept on the top of the hill in the bush. The headmaster also told me that after an earthquake during mango season, the kids run to the mango trees to collect the fruit that falls from the trees.


    -It is always very exciting whenever ships come to our island, usually about once a month. The whole village gathers around and sits on the beach to watch as they unload everything. At one point, every store in the village and surrounding villages was out of sugar and rice, among other things. When the ship finally came with them, everyone was so excited to eat rice. Kids didn’t want to eat the yams and food on top of their rice, just the rice. Most recently, a ship dropped off a brand-new boat one of the chief’s sons was buying. And as partial payment for the boat, he put a cow on the ship as it headed back to the capital. 


    -The Ministry of Agriculture dropped off tons of small potatoes for planting and showed the village how to plant them in June. When I first arrived, everyone pointed out their potato gardens, and explained it was the first time they’ve ever planted potatoes here. Even the school has two potato gardens on school grounds that the students work on during “working bodies,” the hour a week of school time allotted for school chores and cleaning up the school (the students digging up the potatoes at the school is pictured below). Just recently, all the potatoes were ready to be harvested. Four different families have given me bags of potatoes. Several people have asked me for tips on making French fries (even though they’re a big part of the American food culture, of course I’ve only ever bought them so I wasn’t very helpful). The diet here consists of a lot of starches: yams, manioc, sweet potatoes, and taro, so at first I didn’t understand the excitement about potatoes. But even though they’re similar to the other starches, with the limited food variety, I too have been really enjoying the potatoes. On Tanna, the unofficial Capital of our province (Tafea, the southern-most province) they grow a lot of potatoes and sell them to New Zealand and Australia. Some people may sell some potatoes next round, but this first harvest everyone is just eating them.


    - Gladys, my youngest host sister, came to my house one day excited to show me her new cell phone and to ask me if I could help her make a Facebook account with it. I was shocked she suddenly had a phone. It requires an expensive flight or long boat trip to get to the capital city of Port Vila, the only place in Vanuatu where there are stores that sell technology and solar energy systems for charging them. Gladys explained that a salesman for TVL, one of the two cell phone providers, came to our island selling phones and phone credit and our papa bought a smart phone for each of his daughters (my oldest brother already had one and the other is only four). When I saw my papa later that day, I jokingly asked him where my new phone was, since I’m his fifth daughter. He laughed and said my host sister Larisa convinced him to get her a phone for all the work she does for the family around the house, in the garden and at the store. Then one by one, my other sisters used every trick in the book to convince him to get them one too. 

     August 06, 2020
  • Aaron Hilliker posted an article
    Aaron talks about his return to America and all that comes with it. see more

    Summary: Aaron talks about his return to America and all that comes with it.


    Author: Aaron Hilliker



    Hello, for the first time, from America! Well, for the first time without a ticket back to Vanuatu. I left on the first of May and traveled for roughly 36 hours and still arrived back home on the first of May! It was one of the longest and bitter sweet birthdays I have ever had. 

        One thing that most people don’t realize is the that there is a phenomenon that happens to you when you have lived abroad for so long. It’s called reverse culture shock. How could someone have culture shock from their own culture? Let me tell you how. 

        First off, I am having a rather hard time using a fork. Everything in Vanuatu was cut small and allowed you to just use a spoon. I now find it much easier to each everything with a spoon. Well, except for a steak. 

        Another example, is speaking in English. I often get stuck on commonly used English words. I will be saying something and then just stop abruptly in my tracks. I’ll have the bislama word in my head, just ready to be said, but I know it will not make sense if I said it. I usually end up saying the word and my family will help me fill in the blank after the fact. 

        Living abroad also helps you to realize what’s “normal” in different cultures. When you want to get someone’s attention what do you do? You say, “Hey!” In Vanuatu, you make the kissing noise that is used to get the attention of dogs here in America. Just imagine the strangers’ faces when I did that in the middle of the grocery store, trying to get my mom’s attention. My mom is now used to the noise and it’s interesting seeing these two cultures colliding. 

        I would say I am transitioning from phase 2, The Honeymoon, into phase 3, Confusion. I have been home for almost a month now, getting my room back in order, visiting family and friends, and eating all the familiar delicious foods. However, I have been finding myself becoming frustrated because we waste so much here in America, we worry a lot about problems that are not life threatening, and people are very impatient. Not saying that Vanuatu did not have their problems, every society does, however, I lived in that society and adapted to those problems and concerns. Now, coming back to America, I can look at a culture that used to be normal to me with a new lens. With a new point of view. 

        Once the frustration dies down, I’ll move into the final stage of reverse culture shock and that is adaptation. I will relearn to be in my mother culture and relearn how I fit in it. Which seems to be going well so far. I do not have a “job” right now, rather, I actually found someone that needs some documents to be translated from bislama audio into written English. Who would have known that I would find work with a language that roughly 300,000 people speak! I know all of you just got out of the winter, so let’s get outside and enjoy the weather!

  • Aaron Hilliker posted an article
    Aaron talks about his first trip back to his village after moving away. see more

    Summary: Aaron talks about his first trip back to his village after moving away.

    Author: Aaron Hilliker


     I had the pleasure of heading back to my home island of Ambrym to do the yearly site visit for the volunteers who are currently serving there. I got to the airport at that oh-so-familiar time of 5am to check in to my flight.  Waited two hours, boarded a fairly packed twin otter airplane, landed in Paama Island, took off from Paama Island, landed in Ambrym Island, and was greeted by the familiar faces of my family. 

    After a 30 minute truck ride, we arrived in Endu Village just as the first bell, and the longest of the bells, for the gathering of church was ringing. This meant that it must be about 10am, and that church would start in about an hour.

    I went and said hello to the volunteer who replaced me, saw my dog for the first time in nine months, and was hit with all the memories of living in this little house, by myself, for over two years. All the times I met and talked with people on my front steps about life and work, fed and scratched the belly of my pig Jerry Gergich, and that little chair I would use to sit on and call my mother for the 20 minutes I was allocated every Sunday from my satellite phone. 

    After dispersing all of the mail, medicine, and goodies that I had brought for the volunteer, I went up to my family’s house and dropped my bags off. I would be staying in their new fully cement brick house that my dad built. He had just recently returned from seasonal work in Australia and he built this house with that money. 

    By this time, the last bell for church was ringing and I heard my grandma call out for me to tell me it was time to go. I quickly put my best button-up shirt on and shorts and dashed out the door, making sure not to forget my Buk Fo Hymnal. 

    We were a little late to church and I had to endure the staring, but it was a happy staring, from the people in my village who wanted to come shake my hand but could not because church had started. The deacon made his morning announcement and welcoming statement in the local language of Ambrym that I am not yet able to speak. Then the leading elder took to the podium and started giving his welcome. He specifically welcomed the men, women, children, elders, and their Peace Corps volunteer (me). He could of easily had said our old volunteer. Instead he said our volunteer. This really struck a chord with me and the way I look at my service and time I spent with the people of Endu Village. They have a new volunteer and I have moved on to another job. However, to them I will always be their volunteer. Present tense. Always there, not physically, but in their minds and hearts, and they too will always have a special place in my mind and heart.