Last Sunday in the Village

It’s official, I will be leaving my village on March 28th and returning to US soil on April 1st! I promise, no April Fool’s jokes here. I will post later about my decision and all that it entails but for right now I just want to explain about my last Sunday in the Village.

As some of you know, and many have gleaned from these posts, Fiji is a very religious country. In order for me to successfully leave the village I have to do farewells (veitalatala/itatau) to the Church (lotu) and the land/place (Vanua) respectively. Since this past Sunday was my last in the village I was asked to give a speech in Church.

For those of you who have been following my adventure from the beginning (1,043 days ago!) You may remember that in my training village of Naimasimasi Tailevu I gave a speech on behalf of the 6 volunteers training there for our first 2 months. Now, that speech was written by our LCF (Language and Cultural Facilitator) La, because well… after only about a week in Fiji we knew how to say a rousing 40 words… none of which were applicable to a formal church speech.

When I arrived in Natokalau I was asked to do the same thing… me (being the sly individual I am and still not knowing enough formal Fijian to get me through a speech) just changed some of the titles (for the Chief, village name, and clan heads) to make people think I was a Fijian genius (in hindsight a pretty good idea) it got people talking to me in Fijian right away and improved my language skills exponentially.

 

So Sunday, I decided to do it for real. I wrote my own speech. Formal Fijian is completely different from the colloquial as there are a lot of titles and just formal words you don’t use in every day speech. It took a while to get it down.

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Sunday morning rolled around and I put on my best sulu jaba, did my hair nicely, and hid my cheat sheet of my speech in my Fijian hymn book and went to the Methodist Church in the village (lotu Wesele). The service progressed through a few songs and some updates when Viliame Sega went up to talk about me.

He thanked me for my work, my time here, and what I have done to improve the village. It was touching and heartfelt and I appreciated hearing the words in a formal setting. Once he finished speaking, the choir started up and I made my way up to the podium.

Now, I am not a nervous individual. At all. I quite enjoy public speaking, as many people from Western Washington University know! I love talking about my experiences here. I have presented on so many environmental topics here regarding the environment in formal settings with government officials, NGOs, village leaders and members… all in Fijian. So you would think a short 3 minute speech at the church would be no biggie. So did I. Whoops!

I started speaking… “Au Saka… Ni sa tiko saka na Turaga ni Tui Naro… ni sa….” I got through the first paragraph without a hitch. But then I looked up at everyone in the church. To their resounding “Vinaka”s (Thank you) and I started to shake. I couldn’t stand up straight because my knees were shaking so badly I thought I would fall over. Embarrassing, thankfully the podium hid my shame!

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I made it through the entire speech without a hiccup, aside from my shaky hands and knees!

The speech basically thanked everyone for their hard work, apologized for any errant behaviours or attitudes while here, and urged them to continue their hard work in my absence. It was exactly what it should have been.

Once Church let out, I went home to change into a T-shirt, and then walked to the other side of the village where my farewell Sunday lunch was being prepared by my “family”.

A bunch of us waited on the porch of the house next door because it gets an awesome breeze from the ocean.

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Samu sleeping… he missed Church because he drank too much grog the night before!

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Taking a rest before lunch started

Lunch started and it was DELICIOUS, ferns in coconut milk, fried fish, boiled fish, fried eggs, ramen, dalo, breadfruit, plantains, stew… general Sunday lunch stuff. It was a great time!

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I had bought Ice Cream the day before and after lunch finished we busted out the 2 liter of Tuckers Orange. I dont know if it is actually supposed to taste like oranges… but its neon orange and its Ice Cream… who could really complain!

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After that I went home and took a nap, a luxury I’m not sure I will be able to enjoy much longer.

Sunday night we all drank grog until about 2 in the morning. Sitting around telling funny stories about my time here and laughing like crazy while playing cards.

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Another note… Fiji won the Hong Kong 7s tournament!

AWESOME last sunday in the village.

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The Storm that Almost Was…

We have had some pretty gnarly weather these past few days. The tropical depression was laying right over the top of the Fiji group causing a ton of flooding and heavy rains and thunderstorms. The storm is centered over the top of Vanua Levu (the North Island) right now and projected to move south east in the next 24-48 hours hitting mainly the eastern side of Vanua Levu and the Lau/Lomaiviti groups.

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This does not mean that this storm was without damage, currently the roads between the Jetty and nearest town that the bus I need to take back to the village is shut down.

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This storm (because it has been sitting over the top of the group and been very slow moving), has caused a massive amount of rain to fall.

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I called back to the village and my house flooded a bit because of the direction of the rain and the poor construction of my doors and windows. No big deal though, after three years here I don’t really have much in the way of nice things left here! I will be on hold in the Capital until at least Monday until roads can be reassessed and boat travel resumes.

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So on Thursday here we went on a walk around in the capital when the rain was really heavy. It was cool to see all the preparations people were making and just explore a bit in inclement weather.

So long story short, this storm will probably not be a cyclone over fiji waters, we just got all the rain and flooding associated with its formation!

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Tropical Depression 15/Cyclone Update

We are getting ready for a Tropical Cyclone here in Fiji friends!

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Satellite Image from Tuesday showing the formation over Fiji

 

Tropical Depression 15 has been bearing down on Fiji for the past few days causing heavy rain, thunderstorms, and localized flash flooding (usually coinciding with high tides in rivers).

 

The depression will be named when it becomes a cyclone which should be sometime on Saturday or Sunday, it is expected to hit the Fiji group as a Category 1 or 2 storm.

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Satellite Image from Thursday

 

I came into the Capital, Suva on Monday. All volunteers are now on “Standfast” as part of our Emergency Action Plan for all volunteers in country. Standfast means that we aren’t allowed to move from our current locations and all boat travel is strictly prohibited, meaning I have no chance of getting back to my island before early next week.

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Victoria Parade (street) in Suva this morning

 

This is the 4th official cyclone that I have gone through here in Fiji (Daphne, Jasmine, and Evan the category 4 that hit in December 2012). We have had a really quiet hot season so far, minimal heavy rain storms etc, its been just oppressively hot all season and the rainstorms have been few and far between.

 

I submitted our report for the second funding deposit for our UNDP piggery project this morning and then roamed around downtown Suva. Everything is shut down for the most part. This morning for about 3 hours the electricity went out and a water line broke.  The two large shopping plazas are closed (MHCC and Tappoo City) so I got a cup of coffee at, where else? McDonalds. The one place you can guarantee will be open rain or shine (or cyclone). I walked back towards the town center and found a grocery store open (RB Patels). It was so busy with people getting ready and stocking up on essentials for the storm. I had purchased most of what I already needed for the weekend, but was slightly disappointed that I couldn’t find a bread shop open. I just wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!  Its okay though because I have all that I really need here.

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Downtown Suva this morning

 

I crossed the street over to the produce market to purchase some more fruits and all. After 3 hot/cyclone seasons I know how to prepare and what to expect after. I bought an exorbitant amount of guavas and passionfruits because I know that after  the cyclone comes through all of those precious fruits will be scattered and broken on the ground… gotta get while the gettings good! I bought $7 worth of passionfruits and $5 worth of guavas… also at the hotel I have bananas, lady finger bananas, limes, a few tomatoes, some granola, honey, jam, peanut butter, oats, noodles, pasta, eggs, roti, long beans, lettuce, onions, cucumbers, carrots, spring onions, oranges, an avocado, yogurt, corn and cheese. I think I will be fine! 

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My preparations

 

My house in the village has been secured by the village, my woven mat on the floor was picked off the floor and put under my mattress because the rain has a horrible tendency to flood in my front room (aka my kitchen, living room, and office area…) all my shutters have been locked in place and things picked up off the floor in case it floods. The creek runs behind my house and at high tide and periods of heavy rain there is a tendency for it to flood.

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A picture from back in the village. One of the outdoor cooking sheds that collapsed from the wind.

 

So just to recap- its expected to hit as a Category 1 or 2 cyclone on Saturday or Sunday. Ill let everyone know how things are going.

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February Fave

Ivi, the polynesian chestnut is a delicious nut that is only available around February-March.

It is an amazing perk to this otherwise oppressively hot season. I really love going into town and being able to buy these little packets of deliciousness.

The nuts are harvested from massive trees in the village, shucked, and then boiled for about 5 hours to soften them to an edible and incredible treat!

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In the capital, Suva, the ivi are typically sold in small plastic bags for about $2 a bag (about 7 nuts). Out here in Levuka, we take green packaging to the next level though… out here our ivi are packaged and sold wrapped in large waxy leaves with a large stem used as a handle and bark wrapped for the tie.

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Just wanted to share a delicious treat that makes this season bearable and allows me to eat some delicious protein.

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The Insanity of Coordinating Transport/Managing 2 Project Budgets

And managing two project budgets, and two projects, and all the stuff that goes along with it.

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So I have now been in Suva for 2 weeks recovering from this nasty virus which laid me out flat. It’s officially negative for Dengue and Zika fevers which led the doctors to the conclusion that it was just a virus that had to run its course. Fair enough.

Being in the capital has provided me the opportunity to purchase materials and supplies for our village Composting Piggery (funded through the UNDP SGP-GEF program) that can’t be purchased in Levuka town (or can be purchased, but for an astronomical mark up in price).  Some of these things include, notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, sharpeners, rulers, candy, rope, tape, stapler, professional printing of our manuals of instructions and FAQs about the pig composting process, professional printing of 6 posters that will be placed inside the piggery describing all aspects of the project, professional printing of sulu’s (aka sarongs) to promote and increase awareness and outreach about the project, and to print out worksheets, handouts, activities, and quizzes for our 5 training sessions associated with the piggery project. We also purchased 14 digging forks and spades as “prizes”, long thermometers to check the temperature of the compost piles, small gardening tools for the womens group home composting aspect of the project, paint, flagging tape for the biological monitoring aspect of the project, some gardening gloves, seeds, a wall clock for our village hall, garden nets to keep the birds out of certain crops, and mesh wire to place over 200 liter drums that will collect rain water at the pig pens.

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some of our stationary supplies and notebooks, topped by a map that will be used by the Levuka Town Council in relocating our island rubbish dump

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The sulu’s we designed for the village project to increase awareness and pride… I mean… I’m pretty proud of them!

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Coordinating with Breakers RJS Fiji on the sulu design. These templates were used to make the screens to print the sulus

A lot. A lot of stuff. I had no idea how long I would be in Suva for, and so when I first came in I hit the ground running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to procure all of these items for the best prices in order to save some cash for the village to use in the future to construct a feeder road up to the main pen.  It was exhausting since I don’t live in Suva, to try to figure out which stores sell all the different things we needed. I think at the end of it, items were purchased from over 14 different stores.

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The poster explaining the answers to Frequently Asked Questions… What if the pile is too wet? Too dry? Smells bad? etc. The background picture is actually our piggery!

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Instructions for the main pig pen on how to do a composting pig waste process… These posters are huge and laminated so they can be placed directly in the piggery to answer questions as they arise.

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Instructions on how to go from unfinished to finished composted pig wastes. For lack of a classier explanation… the pigs will poop in the compost until the last day so it cant be placed directly on crops or you will get sick, so it has to go through a second high-heat composting process to kill all the bacteria

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The minimum each workshop participant will receive. A sulu, pen, pencil, Fijian composting pig waste manual, notebook, certificate, and a myriad of handouts, worksheets and quizzes (all in Fijian)

Well about a week ago I got a call from our new village headman (Turaga ni Koro) named Samu. He informed me that the village was in the process of hiring a flatbed truck to pick up all the materials for this project AND the water project that was funded through the Peace Corps Partnership Program. Well shoot! I hadn’t planned on getting all the materials for 2 projects during my time here!

Well I ran up to a water tank supply company in Laucala Bay just out of Suva with my amazing boss,  JC, to purchase 2- 10,000 liter water tanks and 1- 5,000 liter water tank for a discounted price. We haggled for a little while about what they had originally quoted us last month over the phone until the owners son came to the front (the one we had dealt with over the phone) to confirm the price we were telling them we had been quoted. An hour later and with $4,350 dollars less in my pocket, we headed back to downtown. We stopped off at the market to pick up some ivi (Polynesian Chestnuts) and guawa (guava) two of my favorite things about the January/February season. I then returned to the Peace Corps office to print off some of our worksheets and certificates for the training sessions for the piggery.

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ivi (polynesian chestnut) and guawas

This entire week has been spent purchasing the last of the items needed for the piggery project, and then communicating back and forth with the village headman, the flatbed truck driver, and various people in the village about the materials we needed to procure, the timeline we had etc.

We were supposed to take the tanks on Wednesday (yesterday) to the village but the PC office wanted to keep me another night for medical reasons and to get results from the latest blood tests. Well I had called the truck driver and we agreed on going to Levuka on Thursday… but then Wednesday around 11am I got a call from him that he was at the water tank supply store and wanting to pick up the tanks! I had to explain the confusion and state again that we would be going on Thursday. Crisis momentarily averted.

So today it’s Thursday. The big day. Getting everything coordinated and back to the village! Woo!!!  So all morning its just dumping rain. I freak out momentarily thinking all of our booklets, worksheets etc will get soaked on the ride over, so I do some last minute re-shuffling and preparing. The truck pulls up at around 9:30 am and we find out he can put the cartons of things in the actual truck itself as opposed to sitting outside.  Wonderful. So we take trips up and down the stairs grabbing all the cartons and placing them in the truck, then we load the digging forks in the bed of the truck.

So we are off again to Laucala Bay to pick up the water tanks. On the way up we receive a phone call that due to the poor weather conditions, the ferry to Levuka had been cancelled for today. We get there and lo and behold there is a problem with the tanks. Keep in mind we paid for the tanks in full the prior week. We get there and the secretary tells us that their mold for the 10,000 liter tanks broke. They sent their truck to pick up some 10,000 liter tanks for us to the Western side of the island and that the truck is currently stranded due to the flooded rivers and heavy rain. AKA no tanks. Thank god the ferry was cancelled! After a fair amount of complaining about why she didn’t call either me or the driver at any point in the past week to explain this to us, she says that they will order the part to fix their mold from Kasabias, a local hardware store, have the crew stay overnight, and have the tanks ready for us to take by tomorrow when we go for the ferry. Praises.  So we leave there empty handed.

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The tropical depression that is causing some severe flooding and heavy rain… parts of fiji have already gotten over 100ml of rain today

We then stop off at Vinod Patel in Nabua to pick up the rest of the materials for the water project, 6, 2″ Brass Gate Valves, 10 lengths of 2″ Pressure Pipe, 2kgs of PVC Solvent Cement Glue, some joints, and 35 lengths of 2″ Class C PVC pipe. Well everything here is in metric so 2″ is 50mm. The people at Vinod Patel must have heard me say 15mm instead of 50mm PVC class C pipes and I didn’t realize the mistake until we ended up back in downtown Suva. Angst.

So tomorrow… we have to go pick the tanks… go to Vinod Patel and exchange the wrong pipes for the right pipes, get on the ferry, cross to the village and deliver all the materials for these two projects.

It has been an insane two weeks of running around but I’m glad its nearly over and that all the materials will be safe and sound in the village soon.

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January Updates

Oilei. Sorry again for the long delays. It has been over 3 weeks now, things have been busy in a different way lately and this post will serve as a quick update to the goings-on in the village over the past month.

Later I will post in more detail about some of these things.

 

First and foremost, my proud little “legacy” in the village, our maps! I created two maps so far, one of the world, and one of the island I live on, Ovalau. Both maps have a kesa border which is a design typically found on fijian barkcloth aka “masi” which is used extensively in weddings and funerals throughout Fiji.  I have been asked to create a similar map of Fiji in our community hall, but have to wait for the next village meeting to request permission to do something like that.

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The World Map

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Map of Ovalau

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Masi or Fijian bark cloth showing the kesa designs. The designs I chose were taken from fabric I have hanging inside my house and some of my Fijian Books’ covers

The village “tomitomi” crew is still going strong. Tomitomi literally translates into ‘the picking up of scattered things’ but in usage refers to picking up rubbish throughout the village. I just walk outside with  plastic bags and hand them out to kids nearby (or more often than not there will be a group of 20 kids outside the house asking to go tomitomi) and we follow some paths through the village until all of our plastic bags are full. We then tie them up properly and place them in the rubbish pick up spots on the road. Then the kids follow me home to receive their prizes (stickers, marbles, pencils… really anything I have been sent in packages for them or small things I pick up in town). If you want to send prizes for the tomitomi please do!

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Tomitomi crew on a particularly hot afternoon, keeping the village clean one afternoon at a time!

I am now 25. And going through my quarter life crisis. I’m overstating that a bit, but that is what it feels like at times. I arrived in Fiji as a young 22 year old and having now celebrated my 3rd birthday here, well it is taking a toll on me.  My birthday was an awesome day though, my boyfriend had gone to town and purchased all the things to make a BBQ (lamb chops cooked with soy sauce, ginger, chili, garlic and onion, lamb sausage, fried eggs, cucumber, pineapple and cassava). He had told me that it would all be ready at ‘White House’ the house we drink grog at basically every night, at around 2pm so I skipped lunch in anticipation for this amazing meal. I painted the final border pieces on our world map, had some vasua (giant clam) my neighbor Semi brought me that is prepared like ceviche basically just ‘cooked’ in lemon juice. It tasted pretty interesting, I would probably not have it again but I am really grateful I had the opportunity to try it! Can’t get much fresher than 200 meters from your door can it? Anyway, 2pm comes and goes… long story short we didn’t get started until 6pm! At this point I was ravenous and Naca explained that one of my mothers heard about it being my birthday and was making me a salusalu (basically a lei) and that was why there was a delay. I love salusalu’s so I forgave the delay, which was pretty much expected because of how things operate on Fiji time out here. Finally we were invited over and a friend of mine Kiti (or Rush his nickname) gave a speech. He talked about how grateful they were that I had been here now for 3 years and improved their understanding of how things work and integrated so well with them. He mentioned my involvement in their ‘community’ as opposed to using the word ‘village’ that minor change in wording made the biggest difference to me to know that I am no longer viewed as just a passer by in the village but as an integral part of their life as a community.  We had a kava session and played cards until I just got so tired I left early and went home to sleep!

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Eating the vasua while wearing my birthday crown and painting the kesa border on our map

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Tui Naro, the village Chief and myself on my birthday celebrating at ‘White House’

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Our delicious BBQ lunch! Lamb chops, lamb sausage, fried eggs, pineapple, cucumber and cassava

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My birthday present from Naca

 

I went diving with Naca for sasalu or various sea cucumbers. It is a way for rural coastal villages to make money, selling them in Suva for up to $50 a piece depending on the species. I also taught him about their reproductive behaviour and the fact that they need to be in close proximity to successfully reproduce as broadcast spawners so we relocated some of them back inside our tabu area to hopefully allow them the chance for successful reproduction. It was a really fun day, I just love spending time out on the ocean because it affords me the opportunity to get away from the village drama and gossip and focus on why I am here and continue to think of new ways to improve this little piece of Fiji I am so fortunate to have been a part of for nearly 3 years.

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I love this place. We went out on the afternoon that Tropical Cyclone Ian stopped swerving between Fiji and Tonga and made its move towards Tonga

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A Trevally, called saqa here in Fiji I saw out near the reef break

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Naca holding one of the sea cucumbers we relocated into our MPA to help ensure breeding

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After I dove down for a sucuwalu (type of sea cucumber) this one will sell for $25 in Suva

Our Piggery Committee had a major meeting to discuss the closing of the project. Now with construction finished our focus has changed to the implementation of our training programme to inform and spread the word about this project. We will be working in conjunction with Ministries from Levuka town to conduct these trainings. We decided to conduct the training sessions in one marathon week as opposed to spreading them out one per week for 5 weeks which I am actually a big fan of. It will be an insanely busy week but I feel attendance will be better and knowledge retention will be better if we make it our priority for one week. Our trainings will be:

 

Day 1: Introduction to Composting

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putting the doors on our pig pens… pretty much the last step in construction!

Day 2: Animal Husbandry and Agricultural Importance and Use of Compost

Day 3: Biological Monitoring of Marine Protected areas and traditional fishing grounds (Qoliqoli)

Day 4: Women’s Group focus on Home Composting

Day 5: Technical Training on the Composting Piggery system

 

The marathon of workshops will culminate in a party where we will award certificates to all members who completed all 5 training sessions, other prizes and sulu’s that we are having printed specifically for this project. The trainings will be a mixture of group work (solving scenarios etc), games to illustrate points and stay active, on site training to demonstrate skills in the appropriate setting, hands-on activities like making seaweed fertilizer, chili-onion-garlic-soap all purpose organic pesticide, and how to use vinegar or mulch to kill weeds. Every workshop will come with handouts for members to keep for reference and personal use and each day will end with a quiz to test knowledge retention and areas we need to hilight again the following day. Each participant will be given a notebook and a pen at the beginning to take notes and write down information they want to retain.

 

Which just about brings me up to date. I am currently in the Capital on medical hold for some god-awful sickness that is getting worse even after 4 days on antibiotics. The plus side? Being in Suva allows me to purchase and print the sulus for the project, print the invitations, certificates, handouts, quizzes and manuals, purchase the notebooks and pens etc and all the prizes for the party.  So that is my update, I hope you enjoyed it and I promise the posts will be more regular in the foreseeable future.

 

Moce mada

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Weather Predictions- Futile in the Face of Fiji Storms!

In the hot season, the weather changes here in a heartbeat. One second it can be brutally hot without a cloud in the sky, the next, storm clouds rolling across the ocean towards the village leading to a torrential downpour that starts instantaneously.

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Just minutes before the rain started dumping! The sky you can see is cloudy, but not the dark ominous storm clouds. Things change here in a second!

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A few days ago, after 30 minutes of rain. This is in front of my house, the little lake that I affectionately call “Lake Washington”. There is a depression in front of my house so it fills with water pretty quickly… Last year I placed some bamboo as a pathway so I can walk in and out of my house without getting soaked.

 

Last night I was drinking kava with some friends at a shed constructed on the other side of the village in order to celebrate a wedding that happened that morning. When I arrived at the makeshift shed (they are constructed, used, taken down, and moved to another area for a celebration in a matter of hours it seems- they are our transient little party structures!) it was half past 4 in the afternoon. It was cloudy, but not the dark ominous clouds that assure impending thunderstorms. After drinking kava for about 30 minutes, a light intermittent rain began to fall. Then the mountains behind the village became obstructed with heavy rainclouds and minutes later the downpour started.

Another hour or so and you could see the lightning strikes off in the distance. Then, the succession of thunder and lightning strikes increased in frequency exponentially. There was perhaps 3-10 second intervals between lightning strikes that lit up the sky for around 3-7 seconds each… they just didn’t stop. Eventually the thunder claps rolled right over the village and the rumble shook the ramshackle structure we were drinking grog under, the winds picked up and the rain started blowing inside getting everyone wet.

Then, a particularly powerful thunder boom and long, sustained, succession of lightning strikes and “pop” off went the power. The entire village went dark. The storm continued to rage as people scrambled for candles or “torches” on their phones… i just kept rolling the video on my camera capturing the awesome “weather” we were having!

Lighting and thunder storms are my absolute favorite, and this time of year they roll through the area abundantly dumping what seems like a years worth of water on the village in a matter of minutes. Rivers from through the walkways, puddles form up to shin-knee high, the creek that runs behind my house rises, and you can get soaked from head to toe in a matter of a 100 foot walk back to your house!

In light of all this, I have to share a photograph I found from another volunteer which explains perfectly our ability to predict and/or trust weather predictions during our cyclone season here in Fiji. Its really a minute to minute deal!

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I will try to post a short video clip of one of the really good thunder claps on facebook- I can’t post video’s on this blog unfortunately… that requires an upgrade (aka forking over some $$$ which I don’t feel like doing!)

For any of you interested in Fiji videos, there are a bunch posted on my Facebook page. Hopefully they will let you experience Fiji a little clearer!

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