2007.01.16: January 16, 2007: Headlines: COS - Vanuatu : Louisville Courier-Journal: Matt Drury serves as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Vanuatu

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Vanuatu: Peace Corps Vanuatu : The Peace Corps in Vanuatu: 2007.01.16: January 16, 2007: Headlines: COS - Vanuatu : Louisville Courier-Journal: Matt Drury serves as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Vanuatu

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Matt Drury serves as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Vanuatu

Matt Drury serves as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Vanuatu

He'll soon be returning to a village on a tropical island in the Republic of Vanuatu in the South Pacific -- a village so remote he is three days' travel from the nearest telephone, Internet access point or white face. "I get so into it I forget I'm from somewhere else," he said. "Sometimes a little kid from another village will come by and pet me and I'll say, 'Hey, what are you doing?' Then I remember, 'Oh yeah, I'm white.' "

Matt Drury serves as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Vanuatu

Help welcome because no man is an island

Bob Hill

Matt Drury's e-mail address is the perfectly prescribed vagabondmatt@gmail.com, and when you finish this, you may want to try it; he deserves your help.

He'll soon be returning to a village on a tropical island in the Republic of Vanuatu in the South Pacific -- a village so remote he is three days' travel from the nearest telephone, Internet access point or white face.

"I get so into it I forget I'm from somewhere else," he said. "Sometimes a little kid from another village will come by and pet me and I'll say, 'Hey, what are you doing?' Then I remember, 'Oh yeah, I'm white.' "

Drury, 27, has long been a caring vagabond. After graduating from South Oldham High School, he got a degree in environmental science from Warren Wilson College near Ashville, N.C.

He worked in nature conservation in the Carolinas, Maine, California and Hawaii. He joined the Peace Corps in 2003. His request was to be stationed at a place he would never otherwise get to -- and where no one else would know where he was.

Mission accomplished.

Island destination

Vanuatu -- once known as the New Hebrides -- is a nation of about 83 volcanic islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean west of Fiji. It was first settled by the Melanesians about 3,000 years ago. They were joined about 800 years ago by the Polynesians. European explorers showed up about 400 years ago.

Vanuatu now has about 200,000 people and about 120 languages, with "Bislama," a pidgin mix of Melanesian and English serving as the somewhat universal second language.

Drury's first 27-month Peace Corps stop in Vanuatu was on the island of Ambae, the island James Michener would watch disappear into the morning mist, his inspiration for Bali Hai in "Tales of the South Pacific."

Drury came home for about a year, working in local conservancy, then was pulled back to Vanuatu. This time he landed in a very remote village of 60 people on the pristine island of Santo, a place where even the term "annual salary" is a foreign concept.

"They have no idea what's going on in the rest of the world," said Drury, "but they suspect they are missing out on something."

He learned to proceed slowly in both his stops in Vanuatu. The indigenous language was very difficult. the inhabitants' religion incorporated a blend of black magic and demons. Many residents had no prolonged experience with a white face.

One local custom was the precursor to bungee jumping. As a rite of passage into sexual maturity and to guarantee a good yam crop, young men would construct a 90-foot tower and jump from it headfirst, with elastic vines tied to their legs.

Measures of his impact

For his part, Drury would be adopted by a chieftain, have a "Matt Drury Women's Club" named in his honor after he secured it two hand-turned sewing machines, and was presented a pig -- a sure sign of respect and trust.

His days now consist of helping families with their gardens, meeting with villagers to discuss projects, an afternoon soccer game, a bath in the river, eating yams for dinner and going to bed. He does have a few small solar-power panels, one light bulb and a radio.

His wish upon return is to help the villagers become more self-sustaining with crops of vanilla, sandalwood and black pepper. He wants to upgrade their very primitive water supply and help them establish a national park to preserve all they have.

He's a young man who walks his talk. Maybe you -- or your organization -- can help. That perfect e-mail, again, is vagabondmatt@gmail.com

Bob Hill's column appears on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Reach him at (502) 582-4646 or bhill@courier-journal.com. Comment on this column, and read his blog and previous columns, at www.courier-journal.com/bobhill

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Headlines: January, 2007; Peace Corps Vanuatu; Directory of Vanuatu RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Vanuatu RPCVs

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Story Source: Louisville Courier-Journal

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