A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: pippamatt

The last goodbye

The last goodbye

We made our final departure from Ambrym on Wednesday. As you can all imagine, it was an incredibly emotional day and we found it very hard to say goodbye to all the beautiful people we have shared the last year with.

We had a hoard of people come around very early morning (6.30am) to help carry our bags down the hill (we weren’t quite ready yet as our boat wasn’t going to arrive until 10.30am!). An old man from a nearby village had passed away so everyone was on their way for the funeral. It meant we only had a few close people spending our last few hours on the beach before the boat arrived to whisk us away

As a last final gesture, we were asked if we would like to lay the first foundation stone for the Tourist Information Centre that we had helped receive an AUSAID grant for. We were honoured by the thought and mixed up a bit of concrete, black sand and coral to make a small block of concrete. We filled a small hole and laid a black stone on top. The Chairwoman of the Council (Rose) who has become a dear friend to us said a few nice words and thanked us for successfully obtaining funds for the new centre.


(Laying the first foundation stone with Rose and her son Stephen who is a carpenter and will build the centre over the next few months).

Before we left we were also given a matching uniform by a beautiful couple from a nearby village – a nice red island dress and shirt to match!

We spent our last hour on the beach “storianing” with the locals, reminiscing on good times and cracking open a local nut which tastes a bit like an almond.

(Our dear Ambrym family and friends)

As the boat approached us, about 20 of our dear friends and “family” lined up on the sand beach to all shake our hands goodbye. We were both well and truly crying by the time we got on the boat.

Pippa’s two counterparts (Laan and Isaiah, the bungalow owners) and Esther (who we are sponsoring to go to school) escorted us to the airport. About half way, we were able to stop at a natural hot spring where we could soak our feet and relax in the hot black sand.

(Pippa chatting with Esther, a year 7 student who we are sponsoring to get through school.)

(Pippa with her counterparts Isaiah and Laan soaking their feet in the hot thermal spring.)

Our plane landed on time and we had to say our last teary goodbyes before boarding the 19 seater aircraft. We shed more tears on the plane as we drifted away from this very special and magical island.

We were a bit overwhelmed when we came into Vila – cars, noise, people, tourists, lights, smoke, etc! We will slowly ease our way back into this big wide world again but will it is going to take time to adjust.

We have a volunteer friend’s wedding to attend on Saturday and are due back in Oz next Wednesday. Although it was sad to leave Ambrym, we are really looking forward to coming home and spending some quality time with our family and friends.

We are sure it will be an emotional touch down at the Adelaide airport on Wednesday night!

Posted by pippamatt 21:32 Comments (0)

Farewell Ambrym

Below is the farewell poem we read out during our last ‘kakai’ to the three special families that we spent the most time with. We shared an amazing last meal with them including roasted pork, yam lap lap, yam pie, manioc lap lap, rice, fruit and juice. The three families all said some touching words and gave us some beautifully hand crafted gifts. Sandy from our adopted family carved an absolutely stunning serving board made from local hardwood and on the bottom engraved two local sand drawings and our names. He also made salad servers to match. These people really do have hearts of gold and astound us with their warmth, generosity and love.

Farewell Ambrym

Well what an amazing year it’s been,
We’ve had the chance to live out our life long dream,
Our dream to live with the people of a faraway land,
We’ve found laughter, friendship and a good life near the black sand,

We have so many memories to lock away in our hearts,
Of which you all play a very strong part,
There are so many skills that you have patiently taught us,
Sharpening a bush knife, scratching a coconut and taking off it’s husk,

When we first arrived we didn’t know a thing,
Laan, Elsie and family, thanks for settling us in,
Thanks also for building us a great place to stay,
Relaxing on the verandah was a great way to end the day,

With Rose, Jacob and family we’ve shared the top of the hill,
With you being close by, warm and safe is how we feel,
Rose, you’re a superwoman juggling to many things,
The Council, the Clinic and yet still have time to grow beans!

Sandy, Krema, Iris, Donal and Nevin,
You have been like a family to us sent from heavin,
Thank you for the day where we planted the mango tree,
We hope we can come back and enjoy the fruits with our pikinini,

The end of our time on Ambrym is here,
I think we will certainly be shedding a tear,
We will miss you all dearly and never forget,
This place and all the beautiful people we have met.

Posted by pippamatt 22:54 Comments (1)

Community farewell

We were so nervous leading up to the big community farewell. The build-up wasn’t the smoothest. We both got a terrible flu, rainy weather had set in, the Bullock we bought to feed everyone got lost and so much needed to be done in so little time.

Initially our idea for the ‘party’ had been to buy a bullock and give everyone a good feed to say thanks for making our year here such a special time. But we learned that the Lolihor Development Council (LDC) woman (who we worked for) wanted to have a party to thank us for our efforts! So we compromised and still bought the bullock and the council did all the organising to make the event happen.

So back to the bullock……the party was on Thursday, but late on Wednesday there was still no sign of the bullock (steers, bulls and cows are all refered to as bullock here). It had taken weeks to find one as there are so few left after all the wedding ceremonies.
Jacob, who is the husband of the LDC chairwoman and good friend of ours, grabbed his rifle, collected a posse of ‘boys’ from Ranon (our Village), and caught a boat to the area were the bullock was last seen. It was getting dark and the last they heard the bullock had wondered off into the jungle so things were not looking good. But as they arrived to shore to begin their hunt they were relieved to hear that the bullock had been found.
What a relief! So in the end an easy shot for Jacob and the real work of slaughtering the bullock began. Firstly it was cut into large segments to transport on the boat. Once back in Ranon (our village) it was cut up into smaller pieces and thrown into large pots and boiled for a few hours. This job took many hands and was not finished until 11pm.

While all this preparation was happening we were flat out in bed hoping that we would feel well enough to attend our own party the next day. A flu had been going around and it hit us hard. For a day Pippa couldn’t even keep water down…and dehydration was a real problem.

On Thursday morning we woke with sun streaming through the window of our bungalow and we were feeling much better. The LDC chairwoman Rosie had prayed for us and for good weather and it seems that both prayers were answered!

We went down to the place were the party would be held in the morning to find that the area had already been cleaned and decorated with leaves. Also food preparations were continuing with a horde of helpers cutting the boiled chunks of bullock into bite size pieces to make stew. At the houses in Ranon community members were making lap lap to bring to the party…..it looked like things would turn out well after all!

The last hurdle was our nerves at being the centre of so much attention.

‘How many people will come?’, we asked ourselves. Maybe 100?

In the end around 200 people from the area came to say thanks, share some food and enjoy string band music. Many, especially us, were surprised by the turn out (particularly after there had been so many weddings in the recent weeks).


Representative from five villages made thank you speeches, presented us with a Salu Salu’s (Lae) and gave us gifts. We were humbled by the turn out, the thoughtful gifts and the beautiful words of thanks that we received.


The whole thing was topped off by 2 beautiful songs sung in our honour. During the singing the tears flowed and we reflected on how warm and giving the people of Ambrym have been to us both.

We have included a verse and chorus below from one of the songs.

Happy days and nights gone by
Depending only on God,
Now is the time, yo”ll be flying away
Thanks for the love we shared
God will supply your needs
Now that you’re leaving
We are saying goodbye

Oh please remember us in prayer
How lovely was the time we spent
The only happiness we shared
The love from God above

On Tuesday night we will share our last meal with three close families that have looked after us throughout the year (next door neighbours, bungalow staff and our ‘adopted family’). We have written a farewell poem and have a tonne of pressies to give them as a way of saying thanks. No doubt our tears will be flowing thick and fast.

Posted by pippamatt 00:57 Comments (2)

Party time

August has been the month of weddings! Over the past few weeks there have been hundreds of locals trudging food (taro, green bananas, yams and bullock) from one village to the next in preparation for the big events. Sometimes these bundles of food can weigh up to 30kg and most villages are a few kms apart. In Vanuatu there is still a bride price to be paid so the family of the groom has to find food and money to give the family of the bride. We decided to go to the last wedding for 2006 – it was said to be the biggest yet….and it certainly lived up to expectations.

Over 200 guests gathered for the occasion and the food was piled up high. After the ceremony in the church, we all moved to the house of the groom to give our presents. I think plastic bowls and plates were the “in thing” with the couple receiving over 50 of them! It’s always such a weird contrast at weddings...in the background is cheery string band music but in the foreground is mothers and auntie’s grieving over the ‘loss’ of their daughter as she moves from the house where she has grown up to the house of her newly found husband.

wedding talc.jpg
(Matt covered in talcum powder after just giving his present to the bride and groom)

pip and kids.jpg

After the presents had been piled up high it was time to eat! Weddings on Ambrym offer one of the rare occasions where locals get to enjoy some red meat. Everyone is fed a plate of rice and bullock in a tent that can house about 30 people (made from coconut fronds and local thatch) so the guests eat in shifts until everyone has had their fill.

We moseyed on back to our bungalow mid afternoon but the party went on all through the night.

We have also had some nice thank you and farwell kakai’s (food) lately.

The first took place in the old custom village of Fanla. One of the highest ranking custom chiefs, Chief Maghekon invited us to come to his village at 2pm for a thank you kakai. We arrived at 2.30pm but typically the locals were on island time so no one was around until 3pm. We were anticipating eating with the village but around 4pm Chief Maghekon appeared with a bundle of lap lap. They made a really nice speech to thank us for our efforts and then gave us a carving and three bamboo flutes and sent us on our way.

fanla gifts.jpg
(Matt standing with some of the big men of Ambrym – chief Maghekon is on the right)

The second thank you was in Fanrereo about half an hour up the hill from our village. The guys made Kava so Matt had some with them and they also killed a chook for us. We helped roast it on some coals and it tasted delicious! All the villagers brought food, layed it out for us and once again lathered us with presents (carvings, flutes and mats).


It feels so nice to be appreciated for the work we have done over the past 12 months. The big party with the whole North of Ambrym is still to come!

Posted by pippamatt 21:59 Comments (0)

Worldly advice

Here's a little advice we have been given (from Pippa's brother Nigel) about readjusting to life back in Adelaide. We welcome any more suggestions! We will need all the help we can get!!


If you see a big white box in the kitchen – it’s called a fridge and it’s where you’ll find food keeps for more than a day!

Don’t go looking for milk in a tin – it actually started life as a liquid and can also be found in the big white fridge.

The silver metal things in just about every room are known as taps, they provide instant access to water – even hot water!

There’s no need to use the bucket in the laundry to flush the loo. Just press the button at the top of the cistern and it does it for you.

Don’t shake hands with everyone you see in Blackwood, they’ll think you’re weird. Learn to ignore people you don’t know, don’t even smile at them.

There’s no need to drop your head when entering a room, you won’t hit your head, not even when standing fully upright.

Having all your colleagues and work tasks within walking distance is a ridiculous notion and no fun. It’s much better if you can space all your appointments at least 20km apart.

OK, that’s enough training for one day. More soon.

Posted by pippamatt 16:23 Comments (2)

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