We returned from our epic trip to Vanuatu three weeks ago, and work and house and garden and kids at camp have filled nearly every waking moment. I haven’t been able to dedicate time to gathering the photos, editing the sound recordings, and writing my thoughts about the trip. There’s much to report.
But just now, walking from the hospital coffee shop to my office, as I passed coworkers and exchanged the briefest of greetings, I was reminded of Paama, where it doesn’t seem possible to walk past someone without stopping, shaking hands, and slowly reporting your activity, hearing what the other is doing, and each giving permission to go about the day.
That’s what I captured in my 2000 essay, From There to Here
“Anton, yu go long stoa nao?” (Anton, you’re going to the store.)
“Si. Mi pem bread.” (Yes, I’m going to buy bread.)
“Ale. Yu go. Mi go long solwata.” (OK, go ahead. I’m going to the ocean to bathe.)
On Paama last month, that Ni-Vanuatu cultural practice was still in full force, and it felt familiar. I liked the interaction, and I was keenly aware of how this slower life on a tropical island compared to the hectic pacing of an academic medical center. (Some people on Paama have cellular phones, on which they seem to rush their conversations to minimize data costs, but face-to-face conversations are still stop, exchange, and go.)
Vanuatu reminded me to make my hallway conversations more meaningful. So that’s one of the reasons we took our Voices of Duke Health mobile recording cart into the Duke University Hospital hallway last Friday near the weekly farmers market to invite passersby to record a short answer to our questions of the day (What’s your favorite fruit or vegetable? and For what are you most grateful?)
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