He jumps up from the swing, yelling, and takes out the belt from his jeans. It is early morning. The sun is just rising and the birds awaken every soul on Gaua with beautiful songs. Time to get up. Richie screams at his 6 year old daughter. He jumps towards her, tests the belt and tells her to listen to her mother the first time she says something.
Suse had been stubborn this morning and did not do what she was told, instead she ran around. He raises his arm and hits his little daughter on the back, hard and precise. The sound echoes through the trees. She starts crying out immediately, surprised and shocked, with the pain slowly creeping up.
She runs to her close by grandmother and turns her back towards her, facing her father.
“Stop crying right now!” yells Richie at his little girl with the special urgency and impatience they often use when talking to their children. The kids pick it up and talk to each other in the same tone, sometimes screamingly loud. It hurts your ears.
It’s a sad moment on Gaua, in this wonderful family. I know Richie is angry deep within but it is the first time I see this happen.
Mary, Suse’s grandmother, holds her in her arms as she cries endlessly and whispers in her ear to stop. There is no resistance or wonder about what just happened, only silent acceptance. It is not the first and not the last time it happened.
And I have a slight feeling it is not only against children that violence, the raw, physical power of one being over the other, is used. In countless families in Vanuatu and many countries in the world this happens every day. Domestic violence, the ugly face of uncontrolled anger behind closed doors, in the security of home. Of course, if it happens daily, if it is a sad part of the culture of a place, it is easy to perceive it as normal, as not so bad. But it is deeply traumatising for the victim, an unimaginable break of trust and love, an intrusion into the untouchable freedom and right of each and every (human) being living on this planet to live their life without being objected to physical or psychological harm. A human right.
Respecting the dignity of every living being. A human right that has to be universally respected to break the cycle of violence.
Wait… Human rights?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
as drafted by the United Nations General Assembly and proclaimed in Paris on 10 December 1948.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
Broken in front of my eyes on this Tuesday morning, with the birds singing a beautiful soundtrack in the background.
In addition to the physical violence that is committed there is also the psychological violence that it implies. The terror. The feeling of sheer powerlessness, of being objected/exposed to the random will of another person. With no escape or defence. Your only chance is to wait for the pain to pass and to live in fear. I see it in the dogs here, in their eyes, the terror, the fearful movements and their cutting crying out from pain. The marks, the bruises, the wounds heal, the soul does not. Every hit, every kick, every slap and scream leaves a mark inside, on the soul. This violent energy is stored up and at another point released, committed upon itself or another being.
A fighting life. A beaten and staving dog in Bravet.
This circle of violence, this “my parents spanked me and it didn’t do me any harm so I might as well spank my kids” attitude is difficult to break. These traumata caused in families where domestic violence is committed stay with the victims, sometimes for a lifetime, a sad reality of so many animals and humans around the world. I have lived it myself, my mother has , friends have. On my travels I have met many committers, often weak men and women that don’t know to how help themselves any other way, caught in their helplessness, their overload and their anger. Hurting those that cannot defend themselves. It is just dastardly.
Thinking about all this on this morning a memory suddenly comes to mind, like a flipping slide on an old slide projector:
I am walking down a street in Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, a bit in a hurry. A woman walking in front of me turns around and looks at me from time to time, lowers her pace until she walks right next to me and asks me something. The usual questions, “where are you from?”, “What are you doing here?”, “Where are you going?”. As we walk next to each other I start to see a very unhealthy admiration in her eyes, in the way she looks at me.
Now, looking more closely at her face while talking to her, I see she has bruises on her cheeks and a black eye. She looks beaten up. Soon after starting our conversation she says: “I will follow you. I love you!”. I am quite surprised, I mean she falls a bit through the door with these big words, and really, we have known each there for three and a half minutes. I thought it would take longer to hear these words from someone again. But here they were, in front of me, waiting to be replied to. What do you say if a random person on the street admits their love to you?
You smile. And you explain. Explain why it is not possible for you two to be together, that you don’t know here, that her love is tragic but it will not be fulfilled, that there is no way for you two to be together, even if you also fell in love with her in the next three and a half minutes. That you travel on a yacht, that even if she was a sailor we did not have space on our boat, Noalani was full and anyway, you are a traveler, you move and don’t just commit after three and a half minutes of rushed small talk on a dirty street in Port Vila.
But she is unimpressed. Whenever I am done with explaining that we cannot be because we do not know each other yet, we skipped an important, maybe the most important part of falling in love with each other, she grabs my arm and repeats”
“I love you. I will follow you.” This repeats a few times until I become more decisive in my tone and she more desperate in hers. She realises she is loosing me, I am drifting away. Now she takes other measures. She plays her joker. As we stop and she stands facing me she slowly opens the buttons of my shirt and moves her fingers down my belly.
With a hushed voice, trying to sound like the women in the movies, she says: “You me go sleep lo Hotel Room!”
I am a bit surprised but again try my reasonable explanations. I am very convinced by my arguments and strongly believe eventually she has to give into reason. Everything is answered with he same sentence, slowly it gets a bit old. Eventually I get impatient.
I tell here that I would love to help her and I really feel for her but just because I’m white doesn’t mean I am a ticket out, even if I wanted to, it would be very difficult.
I ask her to please leave me alone, to please continue walking as I turn left. “Please.” I say more urgently. In her eyes I see the desperation turn into sadness and disappointment as she realises that me too, the tall, young white man, is disappointing and abandoning her. Her chance of escape from her tormentor fading away, leaving her alone, exposed to him and his violent hand.
The situation makes me very sad.
On this day I think a lot about what gives me the privilege to travel around the world, to not be objected to violence and to take the freedom to leave when ever I want. My skin colour? My passport? My gender? Probably all of it.
Once again my thoughts run into the same dead end: The world is fucking not fair.
So here it is. Violence and pain show their ugly faces again. In quiet minutes it takes me back to just a few weeks earlier, when I was hiking with the Noalani crew on Vanua Lava in the north. We leave the boat on a Thursday towards the twin water falls. The girls just escape the nightly harassment of local boys and we reach it safely. As we walk and I look into all the beautiful faces, the pain seems to be just around the corner. In the world of my dreams the pain and the physical appearance melt into one.
Into colours. Into Sounds. I am scatterbrain.
explore ◊ GAUA ◊ :
5 weeks I spent on an island called GAUA. A wild, strong, spiritual island. It became home. This is a DREAM.
On a sunny morning the community of Bravet kill a big, white cow to sell the meat. Very colourful meat.
On the first day of the new year I find myself sitting on a beautiful dead tree in front of a 120m high waterfall that celebrates a new beginning with me. I feel. I understand.
A children’s song heard in Musina Village on Vanua Lava.
Endlessly they play the water with their hands, they slap and hit, they play and laugh. All day, in the shadow of the big trees, in the river or the ocean or where the two meat.
Over centuries the idea of a white supremacy has been enforced and manifested through colonialism in the now so called “developing countries”. But these global roles are ancient and wrong. Ideas about people that deserve real admiration for a forgotten strength.
Domestic violence is a present issue in many countries around the world. In Vanuatu many women, children and animals are subjected to violence on the daily basis. And they stay. They find a way to deal with it, to accept it and to still smile.
My head is full of streams of thoughts about the disappearing island life and cultural genocides. I slowly fade into a deep, dreamful sleep. Responsibility and powerlessness fight their endless game.
After having spent Christmas morning in the Anglican Church of Aver my thoughts are circling around the churches influence on the people here. Somehow I can only see the negative side and it leaves a lingering sadness on my tongue that doesn’t want to vanish. Part two.
With a head full of thoughts about missionaries and sinners I find the way to my hammock. My belly is once again full with grey juice and some maniok. Sleep envelops me soon after I lie down. No dreams come to me on this night. Only heavy ideas and a deep satisfaction...
Since centuries christian missionaries are traveling to the most rural places in the world to convert heathens into tamely believers. What legacy do 500 years of proselytisation leave behind? A two-part experience on a small island in the South Pacific. Part One.
Pigs traditionally have an important role in Vanuatu’s kastom system. They are one of the few animals that have not been imported by the Europeans. A poem for these wonderful animals.
Every night the people of Vanuatu indulge in a ritual, they give themselves into the hands of a numbing root that grows up in the mountainous regions. Silently they drink the grey juice and connect with the sprits of the bush, their ancestors.