So finally, after 15 months of waiting (okay really like 5 weeks… I guess it just depends on your perspective) we finally received our site assignments!!!
They completely tricked us too. We weren’t supposed to find out until Friday morning, and we were all in agony stressing out and trying to decode every single person’s ‘clues’ for the past few weeks. On Thursday afternoon however, during the last session of the day the session we were supposed to have was about how to plan an event within the village context. We were all full from lunch, tired, and ready to just go home and sleep so we could find out the next morning where the next 2 years of our lives will be spent. Well they broke us up into awkwardly sized groups (clue 3- ill get to 1 and 2 later) Christine, Alex and I were sent to one corner of the room, and the rest of our group was pretty much broken in half and sent to other places in our conference room. JC- the program manager for the Integrated Environmental Resource Management volunteers came over to our table of three with a rolled up piece of paper, handed it to me and said, “This is your assignment, do with it what you can.” (I must remind you that at this point we all still thought we were going to be working on a real assignment on project planning). So I pulled off the rubber band, unrolled the piece of paper, and all I saw at first was water and normal map markings. Unrolling the map further we saw our faces taped to the maps and that’s when we all knew… our assignments! Our REAL assignments! I can’t even begin to explain the wave of relief that washed over me at that moment, reality is finally beginning to sink in, and our work here is about to begin, THIS is why I joined the Peace Corps.
So clue 1 that we were going to get our site assignments was that all of the training people were at the session. All of our language and cultural facilitators, all the project managers, and all the higher ups filtered in slowly as the “session” began. Clue 2 was that some of them were setting up an incredible tea in our break room. Peanuts, Bhaji, papaya, pineapple, carrots, cucumbers, watermelon, bananas, scones, coffee and tea were all covering the table. These clues came in hindsight- and I’m glad. It was nice to have such a wonderful surprise when you are expecting more work!
So here is a bit of geography…The three of us are located on Ovalau Island, a very small island located just northeast of Suva (the Capital) on the mainland of Viti Levu. Ovalau is where Levuka, the original capital of Fiji, was located before being moved to Suva to fit the growing infrastructure and needs of Fiji. Alex’s site is located near the ferry terminal which takes about 45 minutes to reach the mainland. My site is on the southeast corner of the island, right on the beach, surrounded by incredible reefs (see the google maps image I pulled). It is kind of exciting to live in the southeast of something- I have always lived on the west coast, even though this is a tiny island, it is cool to have a new geographical identity for a while (though I think I’ll always identify as a PacNW person). I am about a 15 minute bus ride from the old capital, a 15 minute bus ride from Alex (who is located on the Midwest side of the island, and a 40 minute bus ride from Christine (who is on the north side of the island). Unfortunately I cannot say my site name here as this is a public blog, but if you would like to know please email me and I can divulge more!
We are the only 3 volunteers on the island; no volunteers from the previous two years are still stationed there. My site was run by a FRE8 who was medically evacuated back to the US about 4 months ago, and Christine’s site was occupied by a FRE8 who early terminated (ETed) her service.
So back to my site specifically… My major project goals are to monitor the Marine Protected Area that has been set up around some of the coral reefs there, to collate and share the data with the villagers, to help with sustainable agriculture practices, and to help create income generating activities for the village. I am so stoked. This is the perfect location and the perfect project for me! My village is pretty large with around 500 people and 85+ households, and I guess they are well known for their singing. We also obtained some tidbits about our homes. Mine is a concrete home with the bathroom connected to the house itself (a luxury I might add- I can’t even count the number of times I’ve run out to our bathroom here in the middle of a rainstorm), and an office attached to it as well. My village has electricity, although this doesn’t necessarily mean that my house does, I will still have to wait and see about that once I get there. It also has piped water that is diverted from a catchment system. There will be plenty more information about my site in a few weeks when I actually get there and check things out for myself…
Well needless to say, I think everyone is pretty jazzed about their sites and assignments and to just know. I can say that it has been slightly hard to motivate myself this last week and just knowing my site assignment has refocused me on learning Fijian to the best of my ability. I also just want to take a moment and say that during this whole process, lady luck has been by my side. Let’s be honest for a second here… Fiji!? Ovalau!? MPAs!? Is this really my life?
Well with the up’s there are inevitably down’s. On Friday mid-morning I started to get sick, sore muscles and joints, sore throat, headache, extreme tiredness… I think my body has pent up all these unknown (and known) stressors for the past 5 weeks and with relaxing a bit, my body has now started to exhibit in full force, some awfully frustrating symptoms. I am hoping that I just rest a lot and that things will be better in the morning.