Machete-Wielding Hitchhikers

Long before we had children, my husband and I had an opportunity to live and work for three months in Vanuatu, a volcanic archipelago in the South Pacific.

Much of my job involved driving a worse-for-wear pickup truck from one end of the island of Efate to the other, often many times in the course of a single day. It was common along this route to encounter hitchhikers.

The Ni-Vanuatu (inhabitants of Vanuatu) carry machetes. At gas stations, you’ll find displays of machetes in varying sizes, from Big Ass Machete all the way down to My First Machete for kids.

When walking to and from school or work, many Ni-Van travel by canoe or along roads, but often through thick jungle as well. It helps to have a machete.

I don’t think I picked up the first machete-wielding hitchhiker I saw, but it soon became common practice. Sometimes the hitchhiker would sit in the cab of the truck with me, but often they were more comfortable climbing into the back of the pickup. Sometimes I’d pick up groups of people. They’d thump on the roof to let me know when we’d reached their destination.

Ni-Vanuatu hitchhikers

I drove teens and adults of both sexes, but my most frequent travelers were adult males. Would I ever pick up a hitchhiker in the United States? Absolutely not. And certainly not an adult male with a machete. In Vanuatu, however, I had no fear. The Ni-Van had proven themselves kind, generous, joyful, and trustworthy.

I’m not advocating picking up hitchhikers. But I do contend that we have to view things in context. Is a man with a large knife scary? Not if you’re talking about someone who is just trying to get to work and has to cross a section of dense jungle to do so.

Fear is healthy, but it can also limit our experiences. Most of the time, the reality of a situation is not nearly as scary as we think. I’m grateful that I was able to see that, and at the very least ease the daily commute for a few people.

Of course, there was much more to Vanuatu than driving and picking up hitchhikers. Here I am meeting a very large pig, whose owners unfortunately decorated his pen with a great deal of trash. I wanted to cuddle with the pig and scratch him behind the ears and rub his belly and tell him everything was going to be okay. He was not down with that plan.

AK in Vanuatu

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