There was a tropical storm here. The sound of the rain was less of a pitterpatter than a torrent, a constant thrum of water against metal. The rain is elemental here, the clouds sweep across the Pacific picking up water and then hit the mountains here and explode with it. It’s awesome to be in amongst it, feeling the wind blow through the netting windows and the wetness of my hair. They come and go so quickly, too; it isn’t at all like UK weather. Just a rush of wind, rain and lightning, crazy, wild, and then gone. It was 0430-0500 that it lasted, maybe. There was a brief silence, and now I am sitting in the predawn humid air, listening to the start of the dawn chorus of insects and birds.
Whatever else there is to say about it, there is a certain glory in Vanuatu as the wilder end of the world. Just a sense that it exists at the forebearance of the fates, the building standards and altitude of the cities suggesting it’s really one properly big cyclone away from untold damage.
It’s also been a political condundrum; it is at once the happiest place I’ve been to, and one of the most corrupt. The government and the governed seem to have almost nothing to do with each other, and that seems perhaps to the good.
The police are almost never seen here save when they hurtle down the US built highway in their aircondtioned AusAID police station wagons (ah, tied aid; it was obvious because they are all Holdens and everyone else drives Toyotas). There’s really very little contact, and on having conversations with a local chief, it turns out that one of the reasons for that is that the chiefs control all witnesses. By the time the police turn up (and this is even ignoring how long that can take on smaller islands) they will either have their man with 10-15 witnesses or the chief will have taken the decision to deal with it under the more reliable custom law and nobody will have seen or heard of the crime at all.
It is the same with taxes; there is no income tax here, and the deal largely seems to be that the people pretend to pay money to the governement and the government pretends to provide them services. Even the schools are EU built, and the local hospital in Vila has aid logos all over it. It’s just such a disconnect between what one would expect in provision and care and what actually happens. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Eastern Europe and Nepal (both with heavy central planning), but I’ve never seen such a disconnect between capital city and the rest of the state. I would come again, and partly because of the fascination that I have with the political situation. It’s just so alien, and yet the chief system reminds me of the role organised crime used to play in the US in areas where the state did not provide effective services. It feels like a place in transition, and I can’t imagine that the reach of the central governement would remain so limited. I will return to watch, I think.