Banana Pie Bars

Here’s one of my favorite recipes from Vanuatu. We bake these bars on a fire, and gather coconuts and bananas from my backyard, but I am sure that they will taste just as sweet served with love in your kitchen.
1 Cup all-purpose flour (or self-rising depending on which is available on your island)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter
2-3 ripe bananas
1 can or the milk of 2 coconuts
  1. Preheat the fire in your backyard. Make sure to gather many large logs as coals make for the most even heating. Place many large stones on the fire to be used in baking. Or preheat your oven to 350.
  2. For crust, in a large bowl stir together 1 cup flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, and the 1/4 teaspoon salt and cinnamon (optional). Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press mixture evenly and firmly into the bottom of the prepared pan. 
  3. Slice the bananas and layer them onto the crust. 
  4. Pour the coconut milk over the bananas.
  5. Place the pan into a large saucepan with 1” of sand in the bottom. Put onto the fire and layer hot stones on top of the saucepan lid. (Or put it into the oven.)
  6. Bake about 25 minutes (on fire) or 15 minutes in an oven or until light golden around the edges.
  7. Remove and let chill. Traditionally delivered to neighbors on large leaves by passing children. 

What’s Cooking

Cooking on fire is hard work, its bad for your eyes and lungs, and takes a huge amount of time effort. Unfortunately for most of the people on Epi, where purchasing gas for stoves is both unsustainable financially and logistically, fire is the only option. 

That’s where my PCV friend and the Rotary Club came in. Last year Carlie Congdon worked to get “Smokeless Stoves” for her village on Epi and a village down the coast. These stoves require less firewood, emit virtually no smoke, and concentrate the heat of the fire to cook food faster. 

Since Carlie has completed her service and is now state-side, I was asked to step in and survey every household in her village and a control group to understand how the stoves have been used since they were introduced to the village last year.

Some of my loyal students and friends from my village joined me in trekking across the island and into the kitchens of 60 households over three weekends to get the data for this project. Along the way we were washed by rain, chased by goats, and shown true Epi hospitality with heaps of delicious laplap, piles of peanuts, and hours of storianing in cozy kitchens.

And the results? They love the stoves! Many households have completely given up using the traditional fire, while many others use them on a daily basis.

I’m hoping that ingenuities like this will continue to help families live healthier, happier lives across our islands.

You and Me Brother

Perhaps its not the most polished map in Vanuatu, but it sure has the most character! I had a blast this term working with the 8th graders at Akama Primary school in our village to paint a World map in their library. Along the way my students learned geography and map reading skills, found out where their favorite World Cup teams come from, and left their mark on the new library. 

Can you spy Vanuatu?

Sunu Wa “Tell Me a Story”

Bringing Local Kastom Stories to a New Generation

Why does the dugong live in the ocean? Why is the scrub duck so ugly? And how on earth did that yam baby get here? All of these answers and more used to be passed down from generation to generation through delightful stories spoken from parents to their children in Laman Bay. Nowadays these stories are in danger of being replaced by stories of Rambo and Justin Bieber. Nobody wants that.

Last term my graphic design students (of whom half had never touched a computer before) got an intro to illustrating, digital imaging and desktop publishing by designing and illustrating translations of kastom stories from our village. 

The translations, in Lewo, Bislama, and English, were collected from village elders by our principal and a passionate sociology doctorate candidate Rachel Smith. 

Next, with the help of future Dr. Smith, these books will be printed in mass and passed out to primary school students across Epi island to bring the excitement of these ancient stories to the Lamenu children of today. 

In addition to introducing my students to IT and design skills, we hope that these books will encourage literacy, help to capture our local language, and preserve a part of our local traditions for years to come.

(And we had a ton of fun creating them!)

Thanks to Rachel, Mrs. Makin, and my co-teacher Mr. Kolika for helping this project come to life.