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  • "A suspenseful narrative weaves the stories and secrets of two generations into one seamless drama ... a worthy literary journey." —Kirkus Discoveries

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April 02, 2007


What a sparkling piece of writing! Not a surprise at all that it made it into the ranks of best travel writing for 2007. Thanks for sharing this magical experience with us.

A couple of questions. Where exactly is Vanuatu? Please provide a reference with a more commonly known place in its vicinity. Also, you speak the local language? Did you teach the kids science in English or in their native tongue? If the latter, how did you manage to become fluent enough?

I noted with interest your tempered take on "paradise," infested often as it is with snakes, mosquitos and intruders against whom one must lock one's door. It annoys me when wild eyed city slickers try to romanticize all untrammeled exotic places as the Garden of Eden, ignoring at their own peril, the serpent that lurks. And thanks most of all for the tale of man vs dugong. My heart leapt with joy at the outcome!

Thanks for your kind remarks, Ruchira. I love to tell people about Vanuatu :^)

Vanuatu is an archipelago in the South Pacific, nearly 800 miles long, stretching like a great, lopsided "Y" from about 10º S latitude to somewhere in the 20ºs S latitudes. It consists of some 85 islands (exact count depends upon whom you ask), most of which are inhabited. These islands aren't as tiny as the Micronesian atolls; I believe the largest handful are comparable to the mid-sized Hawaiian islands in size. Most have a rugged, montane landscape.

The country is difficult to spot on a map, but look in the vast oceanic space approximately between New Zealand to the south and the Solomon Islands (or Papua New Guinea) to the northwest. To the west is New Caledonia; to the East is Fiji. (Even Wikipedia doesn't have a decent map of it.) But here's Vanuatu on Google Maps.

The islands' lingua franca, Bislama, is an English-based creole. I learned it through Peace Corps training and partial immersion. For an English speaker, it's not too hard to pick up enough for basic communication (precisely the beauty of a creole). But I often got lost in the course of long-winded speeches or involved stories.

The school where I taught was an English medium school (all schools are either English or French medium). It was the school rule to speak only English with the students, and I always did. Given the poverty of resources and the cultural gap, I don't know how much science my kids really learned, but I'm glad I was at least able to contribute to their English learning.

I have read this travelogue countless times from Mr. Namit's site and it has been my inspiration for a number of years now. I am very happy that it has made it to 'The Best Travel writing'. Congratulations and please keep it up !

What an amazing volcano! This is incredible, I want to go there!

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Books by Namit Arora

  • “Namit Arora does for Silicon Valley what Tom Wolfe did for Wall Street in The Bonfire of the Vanities: with keen eye and sharp wit, he captures the culture and mores of the place. But Arora is funnier. And sweeter.” —S. Abbas Raza, Editor, 3QD.

  • The Lottery of Birth reveals Namit Arora to be one of our finest critics. In a raucous public sphere marked by blame and recrimination, these essays announce a bracing sensibility, as compassionate as it is curious, intelligent and nuanced.” —Pankaj Mishra

Shunya Website

Namit wins 3QD Arts & Literature Prize 2011

Namit Arora's India Photo Archive