Generating Good Will

Peregrina's Journey
Peter and Margie Benziger
Fri 17 Dec 2010 16:53


Chief Jimmy is the head of his village on Uliveo Island.  If you can’t find Uliveo Island in an atlas, it is understandable since Uliveo island is only about a mile wide by a mile long.   It is located in the Vanuatu Island group just a few miles south east of the island of Malekula (Which also may not appear in an atlas). 

Not too many cruisers get there because the entrance is tricky and there is a low patch of coral you have to pass over when entering the inner reefs.  But, we were lucky, as Chief Jimmy and his buddy Tom were in a canoe outside the reef and offered to guide in Peregrina as well as our friends Hans and Monika on their catamaran, Natibou.  Chief Jimmy jumped aboard and Margie asked him if he wanted to steer Peregrina to the anchorage (I had a heart attack when she said this since a Captain never wants to relinquish the wheel!)

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With Chief Jimmy at the helm, we passed over the low patch with approximately 39 inches of water  (”Don’t worry,” said Chief Jimmy…”Plenty of water!”) and my nerves stopped shaking, we anchored next to the village. Jimmy is Chief because his father was Chief and his father was Chief because his father was Chief.  Elections are not planned on Uliveo Island anytime in the near future.

As with many of the Vanuatu islands, as soon as the anchor goes down, the canoes come out!

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  There were bananas, oranges, cabbage and, of course, lobster for sale or barter.  After a bit of negotiation, we got our two gigantic lobster for about US$9.60! Out of courtesy, we invited the lobster for dinner that night!

 The next day, we launched the inflatable and went ashore.  The village has about 30 houses made of wood and thatched roofs. Activities included fishing, harvesting and drying copra, growing gardens and harvesting Cocoa Beans.  While most of the beans were sold off the island, they did use some beans to make their own chocolate which we found interesting.  

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 Other activities for the men included Kava drinking and more Kava drinking.  I can testify that the Kava in the Vanuatu island group is much stronger than Fiji Kava because my lips grew numb quicker.

While we were strolling along, Chief Jimmy mentioned that although there was no electricity, running water or plumbing, they loved watching DVD movies on his television (complete with old-fashioned tubes) by using a portable generator.  Unfortunately, he noted, his generator was broken. In a moment of weakness, I offered to take a look at the generator the next day.  Now, it is helpful to understand that the generator on Peregrina has been quite temperamental for the past few years and I have gained a fair amount of knowledge as to how it works. 

Well, early next morning I packed up about 20 tools, WD40, a multi-meter ,a bag of spare spark plugs and a five gallon container of gas (Did I mention that Chief Jimmy and, in fact, the entire island, had no gas on hand?)

My friend Hans and I went ashore at 8:00 because we figured we’d take a quick look at the generator and then take our Scuba tanks in the dingy and dive the reef wall starting about 9:30. Ah…the best laid plans!  At Chief Jimmy’s house, they brought a woven mat out into the sun and the generator appeared.  Chief Jimmy’s generator   had various issues and while I dismantled and tested various parts, Hans said: “Don’t look behind you …but another generator has appeared!”   About ten minutes later he said: “Oh, Oh….another one!”   This went on until we had five broken generators waiting in line on the ground.  

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Well, by 12 noon, we had four motors running and three actually generating electrical power.  In addition to the new spark plugs and gasoline that I provided, Chief Jimmy supplied other more dubious spare parts including twisted electrical wire from an old radio, braided “rope” made from palm fronds to use as a pull cord and a dirty rag which I cupped in my hands to clean the fuel.  

Chief Jimmy was ecstatic and, to show his appreciation, he invited us to a picnic that night.  Then, he pointed out that it would be a BYO picnic but, nevertheless, we would sit on the elder council benches in front of the setting sun on his beach and eat our dinner with the grateful villagers.  (We actually brought a lot of food knowing that any food not consumed by us would be promptly finished by his family and all the neighbors.)  After dinner was over, the generator was cranked up (we brought more gas) ; the television came outside to sit on a rickety table; a maze of frayed wiring was connected to an ancient DVD player and, after jiggling a few plugs, sound and pictures came to the island of Ulivieo again. 

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Our dinner gift to the group was the Disney movie with the talking rats called ‘Ratatouille.”  We sat on woven palm mats with a group of kids (and several of the parents) and listened to the lovely sound of children’s laughter under the stars.


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It was a magical night…..generated by a generator.