So, I’ve been enjoying my new “digs” almost a month now, and things have been great. The house I live in is one of 4 houses on the property, which is owned by a prominent NiVanuatu man, and all homes are rented from him. My house is definitely the smallest and most modest one here, but it is great and is in a lovely setting. One of the perks of living in this spot is that the property owner employs a gardener to maintain the entire parcel. The gardens are lovely – and right now the poinsettias are in bloom, since it is technically “winter” here. There are also numerous fruit trees just outside my door that provide me with some delicious treats, including papayas, pamplemousse (a very sweet grapefruit), mangoes, and of all things - star fruit! The papayas, pamplemousse and star fruit are all in season now, so it has been lovely being able to step outside, shake a branch and enjoy some luscious organic fruit. Because there’s usually a nice breeze coming in off the lagoon, the mosquitoes are considerably less pesky, although I still need to be careful in the early morning as well as at dusk. Those critters come out with fangs bared at those times – I think they may actually be vampire mosquitoes!
One downside to my new place is that I have no cell phone service inside my house. I am able to send and receive messages – but cannot place any calls. So I have to go outside my house and find a spot with a signal to place or receive any calls. My house is situated about midway down a very steep hill, so any signal at the top doesn’t make it inside my house. But compared to many of my Peace Corps friends based in remote villages who have no cell phone coverage, this is really a no-never-mind.
Well, things have been going great since moving in…with the exception of one very scary morning. It was a lovely, balmy, sunny morning when I strolled out of my house as usual at about 7:15 am to walk to work. I took my usual route walking up the nearest cross-street to get to the main road leading into downtown Port Vila. I saw 4 dogs running around in the street but wasn’t alarmed at all because I had seen these same dogs nearly every morning. Usually they would just give me a glance and keep on going – and in most cases they were just lazily stretched out on the road and would watch me walk by through half-closed eyes. As a result, I was totally unprepared when they suddenly turned into a snarling, teeth-baring pack of dogs surrounding me and lunging at my legs. I didn’t have any rocks or weapons, so I stood as tall as I could, stamped my foot and loudly shouted to get away and go home. Much to my relief, they bounded off and ran into a nearby yard. I turned and started walking again, but within seconds I heard a guttural growl and snarl. With that, one of the dogs had my left heel and ankle in its mouth and wasn’t letting go. Yes folks, it got me good! As you might imagine, I was quite startled and let out a loud scream to chase it away. It turned and ran to join the remaining 3 behind me. I surely wasn’t going to turn and walk back towards them to my house, so I just kept on walking towards town. Upon hearing my screams, a NiVanuatu woman rushed outside and pulled me into her yard. Her husband chased the dogs back into the yard and brought the owners over to look at my bleeding foot. The woman profusely apologized in Bislam – “Ohhh Missus, mi sori tumas…sori tumas lo dog blong me hemi kakae fut blong yu”! (Oh Missus, I’m so sorry that my dog bit your foot.)
Fortunately, the Peace Corps medical office is just a block away from my office, so I kept on walking and within a half hour or so I was at the office and in a doctor’s care. I had a pretty good puncture wound on the inside of my foot just above the arch – with several lacerations (4 or so) on the left side of my heel and ankle. My first fear was rabies – but the doctor quickly assured me that this was not a concern – there is no rabies in the Pacific island region. So, I was shaken a bit to say the least – but the bites have healed well with no infection. Lesson learned – never, ever get too blasé about these dogs. I’ve known that ever since visiting the south Pacific region, but thought these dogs were “alright”. With very few exceptions, all the dogs here look like dingo dogs – and in most cases are not cared for, not regularly fed – and sadly, very mistreated. So, they don’t have a very high trust level for humans – but I have an even lower trust level for them at this point!
Suffice it to say that I have since changed my walking route just a bit and pepper spray is on its way to me. In the meantime, I carry a couple of rocks in my tote bag as well as a can of Morteim – the Raid of Vanuatu. Although it’s not as shocking probably as the pepper spray, at least if I spray this in a dog’s eyes or at its face it will probably slow it down just a bit. I’ve also lodged a formal “vicious dog” complaint with the city, but have little or no confidence that anything will ever be done. So, I’m a bit more battle-worn, but also a bit savvier with the critters of Port Vila!