Vosoti au, I apologize time has gotten the best of me – days seem like minutes, weeks are days, and months are fleeting. Fiji is a void I don’t need to and rarely escape, embracing its sub-equatorial sun, torrential rains, and lack of time I forget what exists beyond the shores of my island. So to give you a glimpse of my void, my moments, and home rather detailing every last adventure I thought I would summarize a ‘typical’ day of my current endeavors.
6am: I roll over and stare at the clock wondering why I am awake before my alarm, as the sun peaks through my vibrant orange and green bula print curtains. Battling with the sun I manage thirty more minutes of sleep. I haphazardly pull-up my mosquito net in a sleepy daze. As soon as my eyes focus and my feet find the floor I have a one-track mind of coffee (some things never change). Pot of water on the stove and coffee press prepped, I take a three minute shower in the startling and chilling water (occasionally a brown tint, at which point I question the effectiveness of the “shower”). Shower completed I pour the hot water in the press, make some oatmeal, and go to pick out my outfit.
7am: I begin the challenging task of picking out which skirt to sport that day. Is it a sulu day? Maybe I will go vibrant with a blue bula? Black always works…I finally make a decision by glimpsing out the window to see what the weather has to hold (rain means shorter, sun means light weight, unknown we go with the cleanest). I find a semi-matching top, pull my hair back, put on mascara, and set I look like a hot sweaty mess and it is only 7:10. I grab a cup of coffee, my oats and settle down on my mat and enjoy my Katalau (breakfast), wondering what the day will hold.
8am: At this point I have managed to successfully leave my house and am mid-climb up to the hospital (Fiji is smart they put all their hospitals at the top of hills to prevent them from flooding) or am sitting at the top of the hill wondering if I will ever stop sweating. I take a thirty minute cool-down saying, “Yadra re,” to everyone at the hospital.
9am: I will squeeze a quick health talk in at the maternal and child health clinic, before loading up a pick-up truck with immunizations, dental equipment, and other odds and ends. We then see how many people it is feasible to squeeze into the truck. We usually max out at seven in the cab.
10am: We are on our way to a local school or village to do some outreach. In Bua villages and schools are far reaching from health centres and the hospital. This leaves a challenging task for the doctors and nurses of Fiji to provide adequate health care to the 15,000 people in our province. Bouncing down the dirt road we laugh, we moan and groan, we wonder what we will have for lunch (different areas always provide delicious specialties to their areas). Today is a school visit…
11am: We arrive at the school and jump right into things, the nurses and staff takes heights and weights, gives immunizations, and does general check-ups. The dental team examines teeth, fills cavities, and pulls a few. I start my job of going from classroom to classroom doing health talks on hand washing and healthy eating with classes one to eight. This task usually involves me attempting to utter Fijian, letting kids put glitter all over each other, and rewarding the kids with jolly ranchers for listening. Health talks continue with the class 7 & 8 girls where I cover the tantalizing topic of sexual and reproductive. Covering the ABCs of it all I get an array of reactions from traumatized disgusted faces to giggling girls to those who have thoroughly memorized all that was said…
2pm: At this point time has gotten away from me and my stomach is grumbling for kakana (food). The health team settles down for a delicious lunch and a few laughs. With full stomachs we begin to pack up the vehicle and gather the school for one last health talk. We cover everyones favorite topic – diarrhea (coka)! In actuality we cover the ways to prevent getting sick with COKA. I get up in front of all the kids and talk about fingers, food, flies, and feces. We talk about hand washing some more, we talk about keeping our communities clean, we talk about drinking clean water, and eating clean food. The dentist jumps in and talks about brushing teeth for a bit, and then the health team jumps in the vehicle and drives away exhausted as smiling faces wave goodbye.
4pm to 5pm ish: That same road we bounced in on we bounce out on hoping the weather will hold and we get home at decent hour. We laugh, we sleep, and then our stomachs grumble a bit and we realize we may be getting a surprise visit from na coka….
Until next time loloma. In addition to a normal day some other highlights of the last couple months include in-service Peace Corps training, getting stuck out of site due to a landslide and muddy roads, working on my soon to be amazing backyard garden, and killing two rats!!
I know I am long overdue for a blog post, and those who do read are wondering if I have been swept away by a tsunami or left to fend for myself in the Fiji interior. None of which are the case, rather I have been stuck in a void where time passes by, but nothing seems to change. The sweltering heat and stagnant mugginess of Fiji’s January seem to be an accurate portrayal of my level of motivation the last month. To put one foot in front of the other can seem to take all the effort in my body and a meander up to the hospital results in beads of sweat creeping down every surface of my skin, leaving me longing for ice cold shower, providing only moments of relief. Every day I awake is identical to the prior yet holds a plethora of the unexpected. I never seem to have enough time to finish the task at hand, yet there are endless hours for contemplation and leisurely naps. Like I said, a Fiji void that one can only escape into and forever be lost…
Motivation was high when the month started. I acquired five gallons of vibrantly colored paints to begin work on a mural in the children’s ward at Nabouwalu Hospital. The Sub-Divisional Medical Officer (aka my boss) had long wanted to decorate the walls, but didn’t know the who what or how of it all. So I got to work and slowly and surely have been transforming the drab walls of the ward into an imaginative and educational kid friendly setting. More on that another day because it seems my paint brushes have fallen into the void and may one day be recovered to complete the array of colors strewn across the ward.
Motivation hit a road block when I realized puss coming out of my ear was not normal. Now I know you might think this is obvious, but in Fiji I assumed initially I was sweating out of my ear…I mean every other portion of my body was sweating, why not the ears! Puss and a ruptured membrane partnered with an allergic reaction to some antibiotics earned me a week stay in Suva. Now here in Fiji they have super bugs that infect your ears, so one antibiotic was not enough to conquer the “pneumonial klebsela something or other” festering in my ear. Two antibiotics and some steroids later I can sort of hear, and well more on that another day when I have all the details on the status of my ear’s health.
Motivation was starting to pick up after I took an unhurried and uneventful weekend out to the Fiji bush in the village of Daria. I walked, I slept, I drank grog. I embraced the village life for a few days to clear my head. Again more on this another day because the beauty of Wainunu deserves a blog post all on its own! It was only when I returned to reality that I was knocked down hard finding out that my Abbi (my dog) had to have emergency back surgery. To try and explain to my Fijian counterparts why I was crying about my dog was a challenge. Abbi is my child and love. I don’t have a boyfriend, a husband, or a real child, so other than my family Abbi receives all my love and pining. Abbi is on the mend in the loving hands of my parents. She is regaining function of her legs and getting her infamous spunk back (chewing up vests and rolling over in obstinacy of doing physical therapy). More to come another day on her recovery.
So let the void continue where while life happens, things seem to be the same. A delicate balance exists of moving forward, but not too quickly because this moment, with all its good and bad is being embraced. Lessons are being learned, discoveries are being made, and life is happening. More to come another day on my adventures in Fiji!
***WARNING: THIS IS A LONG POST, PLEASE READ THE WHOLE THING!***
While I have summarized the adventure that was 2012, I now need to summarize the adventure that began 2013! Fiji is unique in its ways and its culture. My friends and I decided we were going to ring in the new year embracing our new home Fiji style! Caitlin and Sarah endured the six hour bus rides from town, to escape to my little house on a hill and experience this place I had been talking about so much – Na Bu 8!
The New Year adventure started with a nature walk up into the hills with Caitlin where we discovered a serene creek in the midst of dense trees. We enjoyed the site and relaxed the afternoon away. On the way back to the house I ran into my neighbor who kindly said he would bring us some dalo to enjoy (dalo is a potato like food I eat lots of and enjoy more than I should). Another walk down to the jetty and Sarah arrived on her bus, she was exhausted, but excited to experience Nabouwalu. We carried the bags of food and wine up the hill and started cooking some pumpkin curry…word had gotten out that I had friends in town and soon the invitations to come drink yagona rolled in.
For those of you who don’t know what yagona, grog, or kava is, let me explain. Yagona is the root of a plant pounded up into a powder, that powder is then put into a cloth bag and mixed with water, the result is a substance that resembles muddy water. You then drink the yagona out of coconut shells passing them around the circle. Drinking grog has a relaxing effect and it numbs your mouth a bit, some people get “grog drunk,” something I can say I have yet to experience. There is a whole method and routine to what you are supposed to do at a grog session, much of I still don’t know, I just go with the flow and enjoy the good times.
After the three of us had our delicious pumpkin curry we found our way to a neighbor’s house for a few bilos (cups) of grog. Tired though, we didn’t make it that long and found our way back to my house where we haphazardly hung a hammock and mosquito net and curled up for a good night’s rest.
The next morning we took it slow enjoying the cool breeze that passes through my front room and indulged in multiple cups of coffee accompanied by scrambled eggs and toast. We really didn’t have any plans for the day. After a lazy morning, we finally decided to go for a leisurely walk to Vuya (another volunteer Brooke’s village). It was an afternoon filled with good conversation, good company, and good views. On the way back we began to crave a snack and a drink. On the side of the road we saw a banana tree that had fallen and no one had laid claim to the bananas under it, unfortunately they were half in a gnarly muddy trench. Sarah braved the trench and picked some bananas, sadly they weren’t quite ripe. Unsatisfied we went on a hunt for some Bu (coconut water), this task was more challenging than expected. While there are many coconut trees around, they are all quite tall, and all my Fijian friends were napping. Again a neighbor helped us find a fallen tree and we found three Bu to crack open.
Fijians make it look so easy to hack open a coconut. While I’m sure it is a skill that comes with practice, the three of us need lots of practice! After many hacks and cracks we were exhausted and satisfied with full bellies of wainibu. Still hungry we set out to make some hummus, roasting some garlic and pounding up some chickpeas. As soon as the hummus was made, it was eaten and we all laid in “wainibu/hummus” comas.
We began to dose off and a knock came at my door, my neighbor had come over to teach us how to cook dalo. Excited to finally learn how to cook this stuff without getting milamila (itchy), we returned to the kitchen for a second afternoon snack. Knife in hand we peeled, boiled, and consumed the dalo! The sun was beginning to set and I had yet to show Caitlin and Sarah one of my favorite spots in Nabouwalu, the hospital and the gorgeous view behind it. We poured a little fermented grape juice in a water bottle and climbed my hospital hill to watch the sun set into the Pacific Ocean. It had been an eventful day and we had big plans the next morning for a memorable hike above Nabouwalu, so we returned home, locked the door, poured some Sangria, and played Bananagrams and Boggle.
It was New Year’s Eve and we were ready to hike to the towers above Na Bu 8, we baked some banana scones (baking technique still needs to be perfected), drank some coffee, and packed a bag. And so the hike began…it really isn’t a bad hike. About 1.5 to 2 hours each way. Though it is mostly uphill, and not advisable to do in the middle of the day. Caitlin took the lead, and I brought up the back (20 minutes behind). We endured hill after hill, looking back only to see stunning view after stunning view. After two hours the end was in sight and we all got a little perk in our step and jogged up the last hill to the towers. We stood on top of the hill taking it all in where we lived. We could see Viti Levu off in the distance, both coasts of Vanua Levu, and to Savusavu Bay in the South. It was amazing – it was perfect.
Arriving back at my house Caitlin and Sarah passed out, I left them and went to check in at the hospital and find some more Bu, and when I returned Caitlin was face first into my mat asleep and Sarah was out cold on the wood floor in front of the door. The sound of me hacking open coconuts aroused them and they came to join in the fun and goodness. We drank more wainibu, took some showers, put on some face masks and had a leisurely afternoon watching a chick flick, as the night was promised to be eventful.
Ten at night rolled around, and we had all fallen asleep, thank goodness we set an alarm! Groggy eyed we all woke up and began to pretty up for our Fijian New Year. A cup of coffee, a little blush, and all dressed up we headed off to church with my neighbor to ring in the new year! Kids played with in the back of church, as we all tried to decipher the Fijian sermon. Midnight rolled around and everyone joined in a Yabaki Vo (New Year) song, and let out a good hoot and holler at midnight. We settled down with the ladies after church to drink tea and eat some coconut buns, where we were doused in baby powder, given flowers for our ear, and a kiss on the cheek by some Fijian men. Next we headed back to my neighbor’s house, where they had built a shed earlier in the day, people began to gather and the grog drinking and dancing began. We had hoped the power would stay on late that night, but no such luck and at one AM they turned it off on us. Fortunately, my neighbors planned for this and before we knew it a portable generator was there and we continued dancing, drinking, and laughing into the early hours of the morning. Four AM rolled around and the three of us had bellies full of grog, muddy dancing feet, and sleepy eyes. We stumbled our way back to my house, and fell asleep…
Now you think this would be the end of the fun, but no! Its Fiji there is always fun, food, and good times to be had. We woke up five hours later and made French Toast and coffee (please note coffee is an essential item to every morning). We played with the neighbor kids, we talked about life, and we embraced 2013. The afternoon rolled around and the neighbor invited us to lunch with their family down by the ocean, where we” gunued” yagona, had delicious lovo, and received beautiful salusalus. We ended the day with a walk up into the hills of Nabouwalu and tried to forget that the next day brought a long six hour bus ride back to reality…Happy 2013 everyone. Hope it is filled with memories and moments that last a lifetime.
It is difficult for me to remember what I was thinking a year ago. Foreign feelings overwhelmed me as I said numerous farewells, worked the last of my days at Craig Hospital, packed my life into two bags, and hugged my parents knowing it would be sometime before we would embrace each other again. This year has been one of unknown and unexpected. While I have chosen the non-conventional in life, home, and journey 2012 has provided the unconventional in lessons and memories.
January, New Years was a night to remember and forget with Taylor’s infamous “lost” wallet. I had a farewell party with family and friends. I boarded a plan to Philly and met 32 new friends and joined the Peace Corps. Officially in Guyana, South America I swam in the black water and discovered the addictive roti.
February, I moved in with my amazing host mother on Middle Street. Learned to kill mosquitoes, kicked in a door, and cried a few tears as trivial challenges overwhelmed me. I celebrated Mash and explored Vreed-En-Hoop. Peace Corps training tested my patience at times, as did the itch of bug bites and the beads of sweat rolling down my neck, arms, legs, and toes.
March rolled around and I celebrated Phagwah, throwing colored powdered and water in the air and letting the cares of the world escape me. I said goodbye to a childhood companion Cordelia, as she passed away in her own time and way. And I was given my site assignment of Linden, Guyana.
April, I stuffed my bags in the back of a minibus with two other volunteers and started my journey as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. Unsure of I was supposed to be doing and even what people were saying to me (oh Guyanese Creolese). But I was excited, ambitious and ready for what Guyana had to offer.
May, I was settling into the routine of Linden. I knew where the market was, I bought a bike, I had friends around town, and things were overall good. Challenges were there, but I was happy. Then I got my first unexpected of 2012 – I got sick. Gallstones.
June, I boarded a plane to Panama and prepared myself for an inevitable surgery. It was a challenging month, with lots of tests, doctors, and emotions (mostly in Spanish as well). I made some great friends who helped me through the rough moments. May parents were there 24/7 via Skype through the tears, pain, and recovery. At the end of it I was healthy, which is all that matters.
July, started with a detour to a Panama beach and watching the waves crash into the sand under the stars and celebrating with my Panama PCVS. I then found my way back to Guyana and Linden, just to leave again and watch as the town I had come to call home fell into unrest. Week after week left me unsure of what my Peace Corps future would hold. A return to Linden was looking dim, and my life as a volunteer slowly slipped away.
August, this was a month a change. A month where I recognized that things were not working, due to circumstances out of everyone’s control. After much reflection, many conversations, and countless tears it was decided I was leaving Guyana. A bittersweet decision, but none the less the right choice for me. Bags packed I headed back to Colorado.
Fortunately, this wasn’t the end of my Peace Corps journey and after two weeks at home I found myself on a plane to Fiji with 25 amazing people embarking on an adventure on an island in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. In September, I learned to say, “Bula vinaka.” I moved in with my Fiji family in Sawakasa Dua and I got a fresh start to my Peace Corps life.
October, I learned everything Fiji. Grog drinking. Meke. How to walk in a sulu jaba. I spent countless hours sitting on a straw mat on the floor laughing, sweating, and being exhausted. The month ended on a challenging note, with me yet again getting sick, but nothing a couple bags of IV antibiotics couldn’t take care of!
November, I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Fiji volunteer, and packed my bags and boxes to move to my new home. I loaded three boxes, three bags, a mattress, and a tin box onto the ferry and crossed the waters between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Arriving in Nabouwalu the adventure began…
December, I traveled far in wide in a pickup truck around the state of Bua. I experienced my first cyclone. I had a Fijian Christmas. And ended 2012 with an EPIC hike in the hills above Nabouwalu overlooking what it my new amazing home – Fiji!
Nabouwalu is not quite a town, but not a village, I have deemed it a “tillage.” This unique slice of Fiji and I are slowly falling in love with each other. I wake up every morning to a cool breeze and cold shower. I make my coffee and eggs and I sit down on my ibe (mat) staring out the window to the ocean and palm trees. With plenty of time to think, to wonder what the heck I am doing.
I embrace my small successes of learning to say “Au maka ni kila” or “So’aviro” in the local Buan dialect (I don’t know and see you later), or attempting a health talk in a village. But then the next moment I get so frustrated with myself that I can’t just understand Fijian, and feel so ineffective. I will sit defeated dripping in sweat after hiking up the hospital hill (a solid blue run on the ski slopes) wondering what the heck I am doing.
Most days move slowly and I don’t know what is in store until I am actually doing it (or doing nothing). I might just spend the day “gunu tiko ti” with the hospital staff, or maybe play dress-up and go to a school awards day, or maybe I will sit making plans for what I hope to accomplish while I am in Fiji. Slowly and surely I am figuring out what the heck I am doing…
I recently experienced my first cyclone/hurricane. Other parts of Fiji were hit much harder than my little tillage. My house just shook from wind the whole day, a few trees were blown down, and couple houses were damaged (mine is still standing). The whole community was ready for the worst with evacuation centers set up, water stored, and a plan ready!
I wish everyone back home (and elsewhere in the world) a blessed and love filled holidays. Know I miss you all, and know life is good here in Fiji. Storms may blow through, days may be slow and sweaty, and I may not know what the heck I am doing, but at the end of it all I smile because I laugh every day, I accomplish little by little, and the unknown makes tomorrow all the more exciting.
I am sure many of you are yearning to hear of my life in paradise. How the waters are crystal clear, the beaches are picturesque with white sand and palm trees blowing in the wind, and I sip my mojito enjoying life. Such is not the case, life these last two weeks has been amazing and has had many moments to remember, but is far from picturesque paradise.
I live in a simple aluminum and wood house up on top of a hill. The house has history and could use some new floorboards, but is comfortable and will feel like home soon enough. It has running water, and electricity most of the day. My neighbors are amazing, welcoming me into their community and their family! They make sure I never go hungry, are patient with me as I attempt to utter my new Fijian phrase of the day, and are always willing to lend a helping hand.
I have taken on the task of planting a backyard garden so I truly will never go hungry. My first weekend in my new home, I went to town on the grass behind my house with my new 18 inch k-knife. Now I really didn’t know what I was doing, and was well on my way to amputating a limp when my neighbors came to the rescue to help me finish clearing a 7×15 foot patch. I am slowly and surely turning over and breaking up the dirt. I have started to grow my seedlings, and before I know it will have a fruitful garden.
They biggest challenge so far has been my housemate— the rat. It has helped itself to my bananas, flour, beans, and mangos. It has put a hole in my inflatable globe (please someone send me a new one). And it has left me some pleasant fleas that make me itch. I am at war with the rat. I acquired some rat poison from the Hospital I am working at, but after the rat ate two balls of it, it seems to still be going strong and becoming more destructive (the inflatable globe was a recent loss). The next step in this war involves some rat glue and a big knife… stay tuned.
I have been busy loving life in Fiji, it has had its ups and downs. But overall been wonderful. Here are the top 10 semi-important things that have happened since my last post…
10) I passed my Fijian language exam!
9) I said goodbye to my host family
8) I mastered how to carry all my bags (sort of)
7) I said goodbye to all my new volunteer friends
6) I got to Skype the family in Colorado!
5) I got sick with a nasty stomach bug for a week
4) I danced they night away in Suva celebrating Swearing-In
3) I rocked out doing a Meke (traditional Fiji dance)
2) I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Fiji Volunteer
1) I am living in a small port town on Vanua Levu, Fiji
Live simply. Words well-spoken and to embrace. Life in Fiji is simple so far. I live in the village of Sawakasa Dua (translated at shore ship wreck one) and have been welcomed into the home of the Ratu (the High Chief of Sawakasa and the surroundings villages). It is a small village with maybe forty homes and a little less than 300 people. Everyone is welcoming hollering out “Bula” and “Yandrah” (hello and moring). My day starts with a run/walk down to the other village of Landoni, followed by a refreshing bucket bath or shower (depending on the water that day). After carefully selecting my skirt (pants are rarely worn by women) for the day I sit down at the kitchen table and a cup of coffee and array of breakfast food. One thing is fact, I will not go hungry in Fiji. My host family showers me with savory food and even after I am stuffed full with a smile on my face they insist “Kana kana” (eat eat!)
The most challenging part of my day is language training. I am slowly and surely learning the basics and picking up words here and there. I can say simple phrases like, “Na yacaqu o Lauren” and, “Au lakomei Colorado.” But don’t know if I will pick up this Fijian lingo… The Ratu’s grandchildren are eager to teach me words helping me label the house with flash cards and rattling off numbers (Dua, rua, tolu, va, lima…). I listen intently hoping to catch a word here and then when my tavale (cousin) and Nau (mother) speak, but more often than not I am lost in the yahsnahsthahs and kahs of it all.
When the day is done and I curl up under my mosquito net exhausted, but happy. Life is good, life is simple and I am embracing it all!