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Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu (Anglais) Broché – 13 juin 2006


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Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu + The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific + Lost on Planet China: One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation
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chapter 1

In which the author, much to his surprise, finds himself holding down a job, a real job that could possibly lead to a career, which causes him considerable distress as he envisions his world reduced to swirling acronyms, whereupon his beguiling wife offers him another way, an escape, an alternate road, and together they decide to move to the distant islands of the South Pacific.

I have been called many things in my life, but if there has been but one constant, one barb, one arrow flung my way time after time, it is the accusation that I am, in essence, nothing more than an escapist. Apparently this is bad, suspect, possibly even un-American. Mention to someone that, all things being equal, you’d really rather be on an island in the South Pacific, and they’ll look at you quizzically, ponder the madness of the notion for a moment, and say: “But that’s just escapism. Now would you kindly finish stocking the paper clips so we have time to rearrange the Hi-Liter markers? We need to make sure they’re color-coordinated.”

I’m not sure where this tendency came from. Escapism, we are led to believe, is evidence of a deficiency in character, a certain failure of temperament, and like so many -isms, it is to be strenuously avoided. How do you expect to get ahead? people ask. But the question altogether misses the point. The escapist doesn’t want to get ahead. He simply wants to get away. I understand this, for I am an unapologetic escapist. Once before, I had abandoned the life I knew in Washington, D.C., escaping the urgent din of the continental world for a distant atoll in the equatorial Pacific. I lived there for two years, never once looking at a clock, marveling at what a strange turn my life had taken. I may have heat rash, I thought back then, and I might be hosting eight different kinds of parasites, but at least I’m not some office drone. I had escaped, I thought mirthfully as I tended to my septic infections. And then, suddenly, my life took another dramatic U-turn, and I once again found myself back in Washington, where every morning I was confronted by a debilitating decision: What tie to wear?

The dissonance was overwhelming. One day, I found myself pressed inside the Washington Metro, soaked through from a November rain, palpitating slightly as I realized I had an 8 a.m. meeting and it was presently 8:17 a.m., and just like that it occurred to me that six months earlier I could be found paddling an outrigger canoe across the sun-dappled waters of a lagoon in the South Pacific. This had been happening for some time, this juxtaposition of my former life upon my present one, and the contrast never failed to leave me twitching in bafflement. How had this happened? Huddled on the subway, I lingered on the image for a moment, far away, envisioning the canopy of palm trees swaying in the near distance, the urgent leap of a flying fish, the fishermen in sailing canoes returning with their catch, the brilliant, shimmering colors offered by a setting sun, until my reverie came to an abrupt end as the subway doors opened and I was swept into the tumult of the rush-hour commute. It was a disconcerting sensation. Blue, blue water, I thought in vain as I was shepherded onto an escalator crowded with pasty-faced suits like myself, dejected already. I tried imagining swaying palm trees as I scurried through the rain toward my office at the World Bank, flashing the color-coded ID card I kept tethered to my belt. Inside, I tried conjuring stress-free tropical living once I found on my chair a dreaded note from my boss: PLEASE SEE ME. 7:45 a.m. But the image was gone. Poof.

How had this happened? I wondered again. For two years I had lived in Kiribati, a widely dispersed scattering of atolls at the end of the world, where I had led a rather lively and adventurous existence with my girlfriend Sylvia. And now I was right back where I started, in the real world, as some prefer to call it, wondering how I might leave it again.

As I settled into my office, I noticed another note on top of my keyboard, scrawled by the office assistant: IFC MEETING IN WBIGF CONFERENCE ROOM. WHERE ARE YOU??? 8:21 a.m. The message light on my phone blinked ominously. Sighing, I loped toward the conference room, pausing briefly to catch sight of my reflection in the window, and I noted with some interest that I looked like sodden vermin. It was not going to be a good day, I knew. The conference room itself was transparent, because the World Bank values transparency, and as I approached I wondered, Is that a Bank vice president sitting there? Why, yes, it was. Is that another one? Indeed so. And look, there’s our division chief. Does he ever look pissed off. I entered, and as I mumbled my apologies, my boss cut me off. “Finally,” he said. “Now we can begin. Do you have the PowerPoint slides?”

“Er... the PowerPoint slides... was that me?...I thought... Wasn’t Sergio...?”

Sergio looked upon me with serene blankness. I dampened a little further as the perspiration commingled with the rain, and as I studied the multitude of agitated faces, I thought to myself, Six months ago . . .

Inexplicably, six months turned into a year, and then two. Yet, that strange sense of dislocation never left me. Where am I? I’d ask myself with alarming frequency. How did I get here? What events in time and space have brought me to this moment? Glancing out my office window, I’d see limousines depositing presidents and prime ministers, Nobel laureates and eminent thinkers, even Bono himself, and I’d remember that not so long ago I had lived in a place that could not possibly be further removed from the global stage. In Kiribati, I would gladly have given up a finger or two for a newspaper, and now here I was, surrounded by newsworthy personalities. Even my friends thought my change in circumstances odd.

“The World Bank? You? You’re a hoity-toity consultant to the World Bank?” asked one.

“Yes.”

“You were unemployed for two years, and now you’ve got this glam job at the World Bank?”

“I wasn’t unemployed,” I countered, pleased to hear someone describe my job as glamorous.

“I see. And what was it you did for two years?”

“I was writing.”

“Writing.” Long pause here. “And how much, if you don’t mind my asking, did your writing–and I’m sure it was sublime–how much money, would you say, did your writing earn you?”

“Net?”

“Yes, net.”

“Three hundred and fifty dollars.”

“Three hundred and fifty dollars.” This was savored for a moment. “Two years. Three hundred and fifty dollars.”

“Three hundred and fifty American dollars.”

“Three hundred and fifty American dollars, then. And now you advise countries, entire countries, on what they should do with their money.”

“Actually, my boss does that.”

“And so what do you do?”

“I help him.”

“You help him. And for this help, you are no doubt handsomely remunerated.”

“I can’t complain.”

I couldn’t, really. For the first time in my life I had more money than I knew what to do with. This, like so much else, was a startling change in circumstances. For years I had lived the easy poverty of the vagabond. And just as everyone else was boarding the Internet money train, I disappeared to the far side of the world, where I lived as a financial parasite while hacking away at a novel that meandered into failure. Money–the possession thereof–should have made me giddy with joy. And it did. For a day. The day I saw my bank account surge into the four figures, which seemed a stratospheric sum. But then, what to do with it? I mean, after the restaurant splurges. And your need for Paris has been sated. Where do you put it? In stocks? Bonds? That’s what I did. And here’s the funny thing. Then you begin to worry about money. To my everlasting disappointment, I discovered that it’s true what they say. Money doesn’t buy you happiness.

Damn it.
It was all so very baffling to me. I had money. I had a respectable job. If I tried just a little bit harder and played my cards right, I could turn my consultancy into a permanent staff position and then I would be set for life. I could move on from WBILG to WBOPA, maybe even to WBPCL. And from there all sorts of possibilities opened up: UNDP, EBRD, IMF, ADB, maybe even a job with the bad boys over at IFC. Well, perhaps not the IFC. That meeting had not gone very well. Not at all. I had made my boss look bad, a big no-no at the World Bank. But still, if I simply applied myself, I could count on lifetime employment as a well-compensated international bureaucrat with all the perks the job entailed. There would be busi-ness-class travel and six weeks of annual vacation. There would be health insurance and an extremely generous pension. And best of all, I could never, ever be fired. Once encased within the United Nations system, a staffer is guaranteed lifetime employment, perhaps not as a rule, but most certainly in practice. The office next to mine, for instance, was occupied by a Korean gentleman who, as far as anyone could tell, had not produced even a suggestion of work in well over three years. Some days he showed up, some days not, and yet every year his salary percolated ever upward. It wasn’t quite what I aspired to, but I did recognize that there are much, much worse ways to make a living.

Yet, I didn’t apply myself any harder. Instead, as I stared forlornly at my computer screen, trying halfheartedly to decipher a complex economic equation (“No math,” I had told them. “I’m one hundred percent right brain”), I found that very soon, once again, my thoughts drifted toward the Pacific. Two years ago, I remembered, I was on an outer island in Kiribati, resting in a thatch-roofed meeting house and chatting amiably with an elderly man about the dozens of shark fins drying in the rafters. I didn’t think much of it at the time. It was just a normal day in Kiribati. But now, as I perused my wall, the stacks of heavy binders with titles like Privatization and the Energy Sector and Infrastructure Finance: A Global Challenge, binders piled so high that they nearly covered the ubiquitous Monet print–how I hated those lilies–I found that I nearly ached at the recollection. Once, my world had been filled with wonder and mystery. I lived surrounded by water so blue that I sometimes gasped at the beauty of it. I knew magicians and sorcerers. I slept under multitudes of stars and finally understood what is meant by the spiritual world. I . . .

“You’re forgetting the human feces on the beach,” said my wife, Sylvia, a little later, just as my exposition was beginning to roll. Sylvia was the girlfriend I had followed to Kiribati. We had faked marriage there, and after two years of practice we felt we had earned the rings. “You’re also forgetting ringworm, dengue fever, and ‘La Macarena.’ And do you remember when the beer was sent to the wrong island? You weren’t waxing poetic then. And the food– months of nothing but rice and rotten fish. Do you remember that Christmas package your dad sent, the one with all the cookies and chocolate?”

Indeed I did. It was a Christmas tradition begun by my grandmother in Holland. Every year, she sent us packages containing the buttery sweets and milky chocolates that the Dutch excel in producing. My father had taken up the tradition after my grandmother passed away. The package he sent had taken seven months to reach us in Kiribati, and by the time it arrived more than half its contents had been consumed by rats, with the remainder scarred by claws and fangs. It never occurred to us not to eat it. We devoured the remaining half in one long gluttonous afternoon, feeling nothing but blissful rapture.

“But wasn’t that the best chocolate you ever had?” I asked.

“Yes,” she sighed. “But that’s the point. I never want to feel that desperate again.”

She did have a point. Escapism is not without its costs. Life had been desperate in Kiribati. Whatever hopes we’d had of finding the South Seas idyll of our imagination were cruelly dashed by the realities of island living. True, it had been beautiful. But it had also been hard. Living in a state of perpetual denial, as we did in Kiribati, had a way of heightening one’s appreciation of the small things, like chocolate. But strangely, I didn’t appreciate chocolate anymore. Indeed, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d even had chocolate, and for some reason, this had begun to bother me, for what is life, a good life, but the accumulation of small pleasures? In Washington, we lived in a place where everything was available, for a price, and yet I couldn’t recall the last time I had really savored something–a book, a sunset, a fine meal. It was as if the sensory overload that is American life had somehow led to sensory deprivation, a gilded weariness, where everything is permitted and nothing appreciated. I’d find myself inside a Whole Foods, and remember that not long ago I would have engaged in all sorts of criminality for a chance to skip down these heaving aisles, yet now I found myself feeling a mite peeved that the cheese selection wasn’t quite as expansive as I would have wished. In Kiribati I yearned for all that we had in Washington–high-end grocery stores, reliable electricity, endless consumer choice–and now that I was in the midst of all this bounty, I pined for what we had in Kiribati, the intangibles at least, for there are no tangibles to be found on a remote atoll.

Revue de presse

Praise for The Sex Lives of Cannibals:

“A comic masterwork of travel writing.” —Publishers Weekly

“Troost has a command of place and narrative that puts his debut in the company of some of today’s best travel writers.” —Elle

“A delightful, self-deprecating, extremely sly account of life in a place so wretched it gives new, terrible meaning to getting away from it all.” —National Geographic Adventure



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66 internautes sur 69 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Nowhere near as good as his 1st book which was great but not bad. 2 juillet 2006
Par Zendicant Pangolin - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
I stumbled upon Troost's first book in Powell's due to a 'Staff Recommendation' and devoured it within a day: A truly funny and engaging read. The following day I ran out and purchased this expecting more of the same but it ain't. Well, not exactly anyway. Whereas I read his first book in a day, it has taken me over a week to get through this and I doubt I'll finish it actually. What's the difference? Well, to start with the premise is that Troost will write a 'Travel Book' in the vein of Evelyn Waugh, and Paul Theroux around A year that spent living in Fiji and Vanuatu. His previous book revolved around the two years he spent in Kiribati. This latter book was a masterpiece of humor, anecdote, gentle self-deprecation and just pure good will. It was fresh and engaging and a real pleasure to read because of the author's uncanny ability to turn small events into good story fodder and for his willigness and ability to mock himself within the adventures told of. The present book suffers by contrast because I believe the author has slipped from glib and insouciant bonhommie to rather smug and smarmy world weariness as he grinds out his tale of two situses. Whereas in the former book the author took delight in the tiny details which he really used well to make his point, we find in this book these exquisite little details have been replaced by A sort of slapdash broadbrush treatment of large themes such as 'trip to an island dance' or 'month in the city.' It isn't very fulfilling in any event and one feels as though the author may either have been allowing his lack of enthusiasm for the semi-colonial life typical of many expatriate experiences to color his judgment, or perhaps was caught up in writer fatigue as he was writing a very similar story about a very similar place under similar circumstances very close in time to each other.
Anyway, I don't want to shush you away from this book but I would like for you to consider buying the author's earlier effort first so that you can see what A truly fun travelogue reads like. For those of you who loved his first book I'm giving fair warning that this one pales in comparison.
23 internautes sur 25 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll come away with a new appreciation for the South Pacific 9 septembre 2006
Par Jessica Lux - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
J. Maarten Troost's sophomore effort is another travel memoir about a suburbanite displaced to a remote, third-world culture. This time around, he's not merely following his wife's career in assisting impoverished countries. He's not moving around the world for lack of anything better to do; he's moving of his own free will and desire. Maarten and Sylvia, after returning temporarily to the hectic pace of Washington, D.C., make a conscious decision to return to the South Pacific and start a family. They research locations, look for employment, and consider the political unrest in various locales before deciding on their new homeland.

In his first memoir, Troost's reluctant adoption of his new culture is the core of the story. Heck, he wasn't even sure why he agreed to go there! His writing drew the reader into a foreign culture, bringing a higher level of appreciation for a dirty, poor, unconventional village that the average American wouldn't survive a day in. This time around, Troost has a goal of actively exploring his settings and writing a second book. The premise doesn't succeed quite as well as his fish-out-of-water basis for the first memoir.

Troost spends days bonding with natives over the psychedlic high providing by kava, but in the end, he appears to be just another man trying to escape with alcohol or drugs, only now it is conveniently packaged as a cultural experience. He is on a quest for a message and a purpose for his book, running around trying to find cannibals and other interesting characters to interview. The action seems forced. He's lost the innocence and reluctance that made the first memoir so wonderful. Is this still a great travel book? Absolutely! It is leagues above most anything else on the market. Unfortunately, Troost just set the bar really high with his first success.

I especially enjoyed the story of the Troosts' search for proper pre-natal and natal medical care for their first child. The end up moving within the region to begin their family, providing even more humorous material for our author (ever imagine paying for deluxe cable only to get three channels--the national station, a Bollywood station, and a sport channel which focuses on "Korean ping-pong and Malaysian high school basketball?").

Troot is a talented humorist who will open your eyes to an amazing world on the other side of the planet. Again and again, his tales serve to remind Americans how much danger and disease they are protected from every day. This will remain my second favorite of his efforts to date, but I welcome his third travel memoir!
25 internautes sur 28 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
engaging, but not up to sex lives of cannibals 18 juin 2006
Par David W. Straight - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Back to the South Pacific, but this time to Vanuatu and Fiji.

Curiously, cannibalism is much more relevant in this book than

in Sex Lives of Cannibals--maybe he should have saved the word

for here! Once again we escape from the structured life of

suits-and-ties and commuting to visit exotic places. You'll

read about visiting active volcanoes where tourists had been

killed a few weeks before, foot-long poisonous centipedes, the

joys of drinking kava, which is best if you don't think about

how it's made, and cannibalism, which last occurred in Vanuatu

within the author's lifetime.

Troost is a very engaging and humorous writer, frequently poking

fun at himself. And yet....and yet..there seemed to be

a difference between this book and Sex Lives--something that

gave his first book a full 5 stars, something that maybe wasn't

exactly missing here, but something that didn't quite captivate

you as his first book had done. It's been a year since I read

Sex Lives, and there are scenes that stand out in my mind from

that book--the lagoon where you would like to swim filled with

used disposable diapers, for example. Having thought things

over, I think that the problem is that in Sex Lives, there was

so much that seemed totally alien to most of our lives--such

as the lagoon with diapers. In Getting Stoned with Savages, a

lot of what we see is not as alien--you can get hurricanes and

transvestites in New Orleans or Florida, volcanoes in the

Caribbean and Central America, corrupt politicians everywhere.

The difference bewteen the idyllic view of the South Pacific

and reality in Kiribati is great, the difference in Vanuatu and

Fiji is substantial, but not as great. Still--a fine read!
7 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Not quite as good as the first, but still very good 26 octobre 2006
Par Debra Hamel - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
In his best-selling travel memoir The Sex Lives of Cannibals, J. Maarten Troost chronicled the two years he spent living in Kiribati in the equatorial Pacific with his girlfriend Sylvia. After the period covered by the book Troost spent another two years in Washington D.C. working as, of all things, a "hoity-toity consultant to the World Bank," a change in lifestyle akin to, say, giving up a job on Gilligan's Island to work for Donald Trump. Fortunately the suit and tie and dependable paycheck of buttoned-down life didn't capture Troost, and he and Sylvia left civilization behind again, lured by warmer climes and the laid-back tropical mentality: "Stuff happens, but tomorrow the sun will rise again."

This time the couple moved to Vanuatu--formerly the New Hebrides--a country about the size of Connecticut that's composed of some 80 islands and lies directly on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which is to say that it's geologically interesting: Vanuatu has nine active volcanoes and experiences frequent, even daily, earthquakes. But more alarming than the tremors and the lava and the frequent cyclones, more alarming even than the shark-infested waters that put a damper on life in paradise, are the foot-long, poisonous, carnivorous, child-killing centipedes that live in Vanuatu. That's right, killer centipedes. And if you should get up the nerve to take an axe to one of them and, say, chop it into five pieces, it doesn't mean you've done away with it: it means you've now got five killer centipedes running around loose. Paradise has its price.

In addition to recounting his harrowing adventures with the island wildlife, Troost writes about Vanuatu's history and culture and living conditions. He spends a good deal of time describing the experience of drinking kava, a muddy liquid--"to the uninitiated...the most wretchedly foul-tasting beverage ever concocted by Man"--that became Troost's drug of choice on the island. And, happily, Troost put considerable effort into researching the country's long--and relatively recent--history of cannibalism:

"The last officially recorded incident of cannibalism in Vanuatu was in 1969 on the island of Malekula. I was born in 1969, and while I am willing to concede that 1969 is rapidly receding into the dim mists of time, it wasn't that long ago. Humor me. It seemed to me that if people were still officially gnawing at human limbs in 1969, it was more than possible that, since then, there had been some off-the-books cannibalism going on in Vanuatu."

About two-thirds of the way into the book, Sylvia having become pregnant, the couple decided to move to Fiji, where delivery promised to be less nightmarish. Fiji, it turned out, was full of prostitutes, both male and female, and Troost recounts his adventures on that front with his usual good humor.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Troost's first book, was a laugh-out-loud funny, you-must-go-buy-it-now kind of read. (Really, go buy it now.) Getting Stoned with Savages is not quite as good a book. It drags a bit when Troost is talking about Vanuatu's government, for example. But it suffers in comparison only because the author set the bar so very, very high with his first book. Getting Stoned with Savages is a funny book, and Troost's a likeable, self-deprecating, witty guide through the cultures and countries of Vanuatu and Fiji. Since I'll never be going to either country, I'm glad Troost is around to write about them for us. And I hope he winds up writing a great many more books.

Debra Hamel -- author of Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece (Yale University Press, 2003)
5 internautes sur 5 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
An inspired romp through the islands... 21 mars 2007
Par Andi Miller - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Getting Stoned with Savages: Tripping Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu is the second offering from travel writer, J. Maarten Troost. I read and adored his first book, The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, a few years ago and fell instantly in love with Troost's humor and candor. So, as you might imagine, when I heard about Getting Stoned with Savages, I quickly and single-mindedly stalked it on BookMooch.com until I had a pristine copy in my talons.

Maarten and his wife, Sylvia, after returning from a harrowing few years on the South Pacific atoll of Tarawa, resume a somewhat normal life in Washington, D.C. Maarten, with an eye on earning a living, takes a job as a consultant for the World Bank but soon finds that he is inching dangerously closer to what seems a full-blown career. With that horrifying fact in mind, he promptly gets fired and the Troosts set off for a life in Vanuatu, a small, rugged cluster of islands. Sylvia works for an international aid organization and earns a Western living that comes in handy on Vanuatu, and the arrangement leaves Maarten the time and opportunity to write. When Sylvia becomes pregnant the family relocates to the slightly more "civilized" Fiji where they round out their latest round of island adventures.

While both of Troost's travel memoirs have undoubtedly catchy titles, this second offering has much more to do with its respective title than Troost's first book. On the islands of Fiji and Vanuatu a most popular social activity is the consumption of a hallucinogenic drink called kava. Traditionally produced by the chewing of a root by male adolescents and then mixing with water, the kava is then served in bars (shacks more like) called nakamals. Shortly after arriving in Vanuatu, Maarten and Sylvia have the pleasure of consuming a few "shells" of kava. Troost writes:

Clearly this was different than drinking wine. With kava, one didn't admire its lush hue, or revel in its aromatic bouquet, or note the complex interplay of oak and black currant. This was more like heroin. Its consumption was something that was to be endured. The effect was everything. What concerned me, however, was not the taste but the possibility that this bowl of swirling brown liquid may have had as one of its essential ingredients the spit of unseen boys, which, frankly, I found a little off-putting.

Much to Maarten's relief, a friend informs him that while the chewing of the kava is generally the preferred method because it produces a supremely potent product, the kava they ingest is simply ground and strained through a sock. Better? Perhaps.

The kava story is just one of many instances that are enlivened by Troost's humor. But beyond the blatant out-loud laughing that I did while reading the book, there's also a real humanity and wonder in Troost's writing. The overall theme of the work is aptly expressed when he writes, "Paradise was a place that could be seen only from a distance, but it pleased me knowing that we lived so close to it."

Quite literally there is a dark side to island life. The islands harbor a history of cannibalism, there is overwhelming poverty, rampant prostitution, and political instability. On the side of the positive, however, the majority of the people are friendly and welcoming and willing to help the foreigners along in their new surroundings. In a more philosophical way, Maarten begins to see that while chasing paradise has been a good experience for his family, and they quite often find it in even the most outrageous of circumstances, at some point it becomes important to pursue a type of paradise near family and friends, even if it means rejoining the Western world with all of its bustle and baggage.

I think what I admire most about Troost's writing is his supreme respect for the cultures in which he lives. While he is quick to make jokes about his feelings and reactions to new cultural experiences, he is also more than willing to devote time to evaluation of the culture's economy, hardships, priorities, and the well-being of native peoples. What sets the Troost family apart from the tourists they often encounter on the islands is a seemingly honest willingness to engage with the culture, observe it, and try to avoid infringing too much on the world in which they live, even if some parts of their character and situation will always make them outsiders. It is this attitude of curiosity and respect which really makes me a fan of J. Maarten Troost and his adventures.
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