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  • Aaron Hilliker posted an article
    Dr. Mere Tari Sovick sits down and interviews her husband who she met when he was a PCV. see more

    Summary: Dr. Mere Tari Sovick sits down and interviews her husband who she met when he was a PCV. 

    Author: Dr. Mere Tari Sovick

    To commemorate the 60th year of the Peace Corps, I have decided to sit down and storian with someone who served as a Peace Corps volunteer (95-98) in the 90’s in Vanuatu.  This person also happens to be my husband, Mr. Jason Sovick. As one of the board members of Friends of Vanuatu, I am honored to share with you our story through audio. 

    In this one hour long storian, you will hear about Mr. Sovick’s thoughts on why he wanted to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer, and what his experience was like, especially as a white male in the intersectional challenge of conventional race, gender, and identity. I shared a little about my experience of reverse culture shock as a Ni-Vanuatu woman entering the U.S for the first time, and how we chose to raise our children within a cross cultural focus because of our experiences and background.

     

    Listen to the interview here. 

  • Aaron Hilliker posted an article
    Teresa reflects on her Peace Corps Service. see more

    Summary: Teresa reflects on her Peace Corps Service. 

    Author: Teresa Oberti

     

    When Aaron, our communications director, reached out to the board about creating blog posts for Peace Corps’ 60 th anniversary I wasn’t sure what I would write about. It’s been over a decade since I served in the Peace Corps and when I was a volunteer in 2006/2007 there were no smart phones and Wi-Fi wasn’t readily available so there’s not much of a digital or social media trail I can run down to help jog my memory. I wanted to write something profound, or maybe enlightening, or at the very least good in order to meet the expectations of a 60 th anniversary.

    Before joining the Peace Corps I only had far off fantasies of what the Peace Corps really was. Ideas that were probably concocted from TV and movies (ok most definitely were). I wasn’t one of those people who did extensive research before making the decision to join. I didn’t have close family or friends who had served and told tales of their PC life. I just wanted to do it, so I applied and that was it, I took a leap of faith.

    I was lucky because there was a recruiter who would come to my college campus a few times a month. I was able to meet with him before applying and the truth is, the only reason why I met with him was because I thought he was cute… don’t judge me, I’m just being honest. I can’t believe I decided I would move anywhere in the world because some guy was cute! Wow, to be 22 again… Don’t get me wrong, I do have an agriculture degree, so I had the qualifications to be a volunteer, but maybe my priorities were a little off.

    Fast forward to March or maybe April 2006 and I was on a plane to Vanuatu. I had my struggles during service like so many others. Being isolated is hard but I learned to love reading and to be alone with my own thoughts. I missed American food the most and dreamt of caramel lattes and grocery stores with too many food options. I missed a few big life events with my family and friends, but I was there is spirit and got to read all about it in letters stuffed into care packages. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a successful project or work assignment and I still have trouble feeling like my service was complete because of that but I remind myself that change doesn’t happen in a few short years.

    I recently read through a few old emails I sent early on in my service. There aren’t too many since I didn’t have access to the internet or a computer so the few I was able to find was a nice stroll down memory lane. Reading them felt like it all just happened a day ago but at the same time like an eternity. I honestly don’t recognize that person from my emails. Not in a bad way but in a “it’s been a decade” way. It’s this, “wow, look at how much I’ve grown and changed and learned since that time”.

    I think my biggest takeaway from my Peace Corps service is that it’s this job that is only a blip on the life radar, a few years out of hopefully 100, but it had a profound impact on my life. Not only do I feel like I have been added to a special family, the RPCV Vanuatu family, one that keeps growing as the years move on, but I have also made life decisions because of that experience. I continue to work in international development because Peace Corps introduced me to that world. I met my life partner there and through that partnership he continues to connect me to Vanuatu. We speak Bislama daily, though it has evolved into more of a Bis-English than true Bislama. We cook aelan kakae weekly. And we raise our family with the hopes of returning permanently to our home-away-from-home, our island paradise, Vanuatu.

  • Aaron Hilliker posted an article
    Join Gaea as she reflects on her time serving in Vanuatu. see more

    Summary: Join Gaea as she reflects on her time serving in Vanuatu. 

    Author: Gaea Dill-D'Ascoli

     

    Peace Corps Volunteers are often treated as experts. For the most part, we aren’t. I arrived in Vanuatu as a 25 year-old with a penchant for talking about sex, a love of languages, and a wild sense of adventure. None of that made me an expert. I wasn’t then, and I’m still not now, an expert in anything.

    Because of the perception of expertise, it is easy to view Peace Corps as a one-sided exchange. “Here is the educated American, coming to provide information to the uneducated host country nationals!” This is not at all how it is.

    I knew the format of grant writing, but I didn’t speak French so I couldn’t apply for grants from the French Embassy. I co-wrote those grants with members of my community, all of whom spoke French, Bislama, Apma, and a smattering of English, Sa, and whatever else they’d picked up. (I never learned French, despite 2 years teaching at a French school.) I could talk about how toilets worked all day, but I had no idea how the water supply worked and if it would support more toilets. My community knew that it couldn’t and chose to create improved pit toilets instead of the fancier flushing toilets. They were proved very right when the water stopped working 6 months into my service and I spent the next 18 months showering when it rained and hauling drinking water from the next village.

    It was even more basic than that. For all my college education, I had no idea how to feed myself on the island. I was so bad at walking in the slippery silt-mud of Pentecost that at one point an 8 year-old escorted me home. By the time we reached my house, he had taken my basket and the pumpkin I was carrying and was still holding my hand so I didn’t fall. It was a very dignified moment.

    The more you put in, the more you get back. I got back a set of values that holds community and people in the highest regard. I got back hours of laughter and slices of fresh pineapple. I got back 2 new languages (but not French). In exchange, I left part of myself on a little chain of islands. Part of my heart is tucked among the coconut trees and buried in the silt-mud of Pentecost. A piece of me belongs forever in the photo room at the WanSmol Bag Youth Center and watching the dancers in the common area. I still dream in Bislama and try to buy sutsut instead of chayote.

    When it is done well, Peace Corps is an exchange. It is a partnership among many people for the good of the individuals, community, countries, and world. I still think I got the most out of my exchange.

  • Aaron Hilliker posted an article
    Sharon Hsu reflects on 60 years of Service and the impact it has had on her. see more

    Summary: Sharon Hsu reflects on 60 years of Service and the impact it has had on her. 

    Author: Sharon Hsu

     

    When I joined the Peace Corps, no amount of foresight could have prepared me for the world. I had no clue that for two years I would be walking across three families' yards just to use the outhouse and be asked by seven different people where I was going on the way. I had no clue that the only chair I would own was an upside down bucket or that I would sometimes (ok, make that often) pee in an empty peanut butter jar. Or how much "soft mud" I would drink. Or how many flashlights I would lose to that pit toilet. Or that I would eventually pull a worm out of my butt.


    But life has its magic. And I also had no clue how much I would learn - about patience; about love; about the magic of laughter; about culture; and mostly, about unconditional kindness. Not of a person, but of a people and an entire country. And I am forever indebted, because I took away so much more than I could give.

    Happy 60th birthday to the #peacecorps


    To all those who served or will serve, and to the most vibrant and beautiful people I know: a photo of Ruben and Lol (local language for uncle) Jacob working the evening's kava. Fitting, because only a few know how much of those two years was really dedicated to this dirty water. A moment: a memory distilled into a photo, forever etched into my thoughts.

    #PeaceCorpsWeek

  • Aaron Hilliker posted an article
    Melissa recreated her mother's tuluk recipe in the Chicago suburbs with great results! see more

    Summary: Melissa recreated her mother's tuluk recipe in the Chicago suburbs with great results!

    Author: FOV2 member Melissa RPCV '17-'20

     

    About midway through my service in Vanuatu, I learned from friends in the village that tuluk was claimed by the Efate region as "their" aelan kakae. Some volunteers hadn't eaten it on their islands, or had only tried it in Port Vila. Serving on Nguna, my host mama Mikale often made it for fundraisers or community events. On my regular route from Port Vila to Emua wharf, I could find tuluk at any one of the roadside market stands for a reasonable 100vt.  

     

    If you're unfamiliar, tuluk is like a portable, meat-filled laplap, or a "tamale with cassava instead of corn" as I described to my American friends. For the virtual Peace Corps gathering in August 2020, I decided it would be the perfect time to attempt to replicate my mama's recipe on American soil.

     

    To keep it as close as possible to my host mama's recipe, I only used soy sauce and green onions, but you can add other sauces or flavors as you wish!  

     

    I live in the Chicago suburbs, where it's easy to find Latin American produce (and therefore, Vanuatu produce, as the crops are similar). If you can't find these items in your usual grocery store, I would recommend seeking out a Latin American market in your area. Banana leaves can be found in the frozen section (I found a Goya brand one at my local supermarket).

     

    Regarding quantities, I eyeballed most of it. Look at the cassava root and it should be about the size of one medium potato per serving. For the pork, you'll use about a 1/4 to 1/3 lb per serving. 

     

    Ingredients:

    • cassava root (also known as yuca or manioc)
    • pork butt or shoulder
    • soy sauce
    • green onions
    • frozen banana leaves, thawed to room temperature (or fresh, if you can find them!)
    • salt and pepper to taste

    Instructions:

      • First you'll need to cook the pork. Slow and low is the best way to make it nice and tender, so I opted to cook it in a slow cooker. I placed the pork butt into the cooker, added a good amount of soy sauce and green onions, then replaced the lid and cooked it on low for about 6 hours. 
      • Once the pork is cooked completely, taste it and add more seasoning if necessary. Let it cool enough so it's easy to handle with your hands.
      • Peel the manioc by chopping off the ends, leaving a log. Then, use a knife to cut a slit down the side, and use your fingers to peel off the skin. It should be removed easily, but if not, use a paring knife.  
      • Preheat your oven or grill to 250*F.
      • Using a cheese grater, rasras (grate) your manioc completely to create a pulp. 
      • Open up a banana leaf and spread it on the counter. I cut my leaves in half, as they are quite large.
      • Using clean hands, take about a fist-sized amount of manioc pulp and place it in the center of the leaf. Use your fingers to flatten it into a rectangle and make a small dugout middle, without removing too much. You don't want to see the leaf underneath.
      • Using clean hands, pinch a healthy amount of seasoned pork into the middle of your manioc "bowl."
      • Using your fingers, mould the sides of the manioc "bowl" up and over the pork so you cover it completely. You can add more manioc if necessary. You want to cover the meat on all sides completely, but you also want to ensure there is a small ratio of manioc to meat, about 2:1. 
      • Use your hands to form the tuluk into a rectangle shape. 
      • Take the edges of the banana leaf and wrap it, covering it completely. It's ok if the leaf tears a little bit. If there are large holes, you can use ripped up banana leaf to cover them up as you wrap the tuluk. 
      • Roll the tuluk over so the open side is on the bottom, therefore keeping it sealed. 
      • Repeat until you have used all the manioc and/or meat.
      • If cooking in an oven, place your wrapped tuluk on the top rack. If cooking on a grill, place on indirect heat so they don't burn. Ensure the grill remains closed for the duration of the cooking time, so heat does not escape. 
      • Cook the tuluk for about 45-60 minutes, or until cooked thoroughly. As it cooks, the manioc will become opaque and hard, similar to the texture of laplap. 
      • Remove the tuluk from the oven/grill and serve immediately. To eat, remove the banana leaf and eat with your hands!