Been a while! A lot has happened this past week or so and I will try to start at the beginning…
Last Sunday was our last day in our training villages, which was a really sad time. Our host families threw a big potluck goodbye for us on Saturday and I received a salusalu (a really elaborate lei) that was adorned with iri iri lailai (small fans) which spelled out my name from my Auntie Sala. I also received two fans from people in the village that had my name on them.
On Sunday, me and Aliki’s bags were picked up at 6:30 pm by Felipe to be taken on the ferry over to Ovalau on Monday. It was a really hectic day trying to say goodbye to everybody, drinking grog, packing up, etc. My na kept saying, “This time next Sunday, you’ll be eating alone!” How sad. I have to say it has been really nice to live with a family who cooked and cleaned for me for the past 2 months. It really allowed me to focus on other important things that we had to be learning during training that didn’t involve just getting by day to day.
Monday (July 4th) we went down to Suva to be officially sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs)! The celebration also included celebrating the US’s 235th Independence Day and the Peace Corps 50th anniversary. There were speeches by the US Ambassador to Fiji, Our Country Director, and the President of Fiji. After the official swearing in, our training village performed our meke’s for the group in these ridiculous outfits… hot pink, super-shiny and ruffly shirts, black sulu ira’s, chokers made from a black ribbon strung through a shell, and the material used for weddings which is like painted papery stuff that was pleated and wrapped around our waists, not forgetting the bracelets and waist adornments of bundled leaves. We had a great lunch, and after headed over to the beautiful hotel across the street. The Friend of Fiji (a group of returned PCVs from the beginning of the PC service in Fiji in 1967) were in attendance and set up a trust fund to (get this) buy us all a beer! It was a really great time to mingle with the volunteers who are here in fiji now, listen to the experiences of the people who have been here before, and just celebrate being done with training! Monday night we headed back to Nadave to begin our ICCP conference.
Monday night- Thursday morning was our ICCP (Initial Community Contact Person) conference in Nadave. The people who were stationed in Vanua Levu left on their flight early Tuesday morning to hold their conference in Lobasa. My ICCP was the TK of my new village, and during the conference we got to know each other and discussed our expectations of service for the next two years. We tentatively discussed projects which include sustainable water harvesting, monitoring of the MPA, creating a chicken coop as an income generator for the youth, making FADs (Fish Aggregating Devices), and a bunch of other things that we thought of. I am REALLY excited to get started and start talking with community members to see what it is they think is necessary.
Thursday morning, Aliki and I left Nadave after saying some really sad goodbyes (which entailed me jumping into peoples beds under their mosquito nets at 530 in the morning…) to all the people who would be staying on the mainland of Viti Levu. We went to the airport near Nadave where my host mom and dad met up with us to say goodbye. My adorable host mom packed me and Aliki snacks for the plane ride (which you will find silly in a few sentences here…) and gave me a bed sheet for my new house. They waited with us until we boarded and I had to say another sad goodbye. So the plane that we took to Ovalau was an 8 seater… the smallest plane I have ever been on. And if its not terrifying enough to be able to see all the controls and remain only about 500 feet above the water below, try having the propellers spinning right next to your face. Alex and I sat next to each other, and I think I just tried to distract myself from how terrified I was by taking pictures the whole time and planning escape routes. We arrived in Ovalau at about 830am and Aliki and I were separated for the first time since this whole thing started 2 months ago, I went in a minivan to my new site with just my TK in the back seat.
Thursday. I arrived at my new village around 9 in the morning and it was eerily quiet. I guess a lot of people were at school, or doing various activities with the different churches that day. So I actually got to my new house without being interrogated by every passing person.
My new house is so beautiful, I just have to take a moment to say that. It is cement with a tin roof and has 2 rooms, the front room is my kitchen/living room/dining room and is about 10×10, the second room is my bedroom/bathroom and it is about the same size. The bedroom has 2 windows, and the whole floor is tiled in this really gorgeous blue. The bathroom is in my room (which makes me feel really good that I don’t have to walk outside in the middle of the night) and is also tiled! Attached to my house is an equally sized long empty room that the TK has asked me to work on making into a library. I am really excited about this and would love to work on getting book, maps and potentially computer donations to fill it with. It seems like a really good focus on education for the youth, and the perfect addition to a peace corps house. So back to settling in…
My first day was spent running from Levuka (the old Capital of Fiji) to my house with stuff. I had to buy a mattress, a two burner gas stove and a small cylinder, food, cooking supplies, etc. It was really hard that first day because my neighbors wanted to help with everything and I just wanted some time to relocate all my crap that had been thrown in bags… for example… They came over to have tea. Well first off, I don’t really drink tea (unless its lemon leaves or lemon grass which you can pull from just about anyone’s backyard). I only had JUST bought 2 cups and some sugar for baking, I don’t put sugar in my tea which is also kinda weird here. Then she asked me for my biscuits, butter, and milk… none of which I had. So needless to say it was a really frustrating afternoon of trying to get my stuff together with anywhere from 1-8 people in my house helping. Well if that wasn’t annoying, one of my bags somehow ended up in a different volunteers site about an hour drive from my house… so I had to hire transport late in the afternoon to go up to her site and retrieve my bag (she is on medical hold in Suva right now and didn’t come with me and Alex to Ovalau that day- as on Sunday she is still in Suva). Well needless to say I got back home really tired, really frustrated, and just wanting to have some dinner and a nice rest. Well I got dinner… but it had tinned fish in it. Apparently here when you say you are a vegetarian it means that you eat fish, when you say you don’t eat fish, it means you eat tinned fish, sad. So I made a peanut butter sandwich, ushered everyone out of my house and went to sleep.
Friday. Aliki and I met up with Juliana, a Volunteer who has been on Ovalau for 2 years already and will be heading home on Monday. She took us around Levuka to meet people of interest like the Provincial Administrator, some people at the hospital we might work with, the head of the Fisheries Department out here, the postman, and some people at the hardware store. Since she is leaving, she also unloaded some of her stuff onto me and Aliki, so I got a Creek Chair, some resistance bands, bugspray, and a ton of spices! Today I also got a call from Jim, one of the Friends of Fiji members who I had talked to at our swearing in ceremony on Monday. He was stationed out in Ovalau during his service from 1974-1976 and had come back to try to find some people. We went out to lunch and talked about the differences the Peace Corps has experienced in those 35 years. He has been a wealth of knowledge and information, and even let us know about a group that provides funding for current volunteers projects!
Friday night I presented my sevusevu (unpounded grog that is presented to the Chief to essentially make you one of the villagers) to two of the village elders because our Chief is out of town. Its kind of amazing how something so ceremonial and foreign to me actually made me feel a lot more comfortable walking around the village.
Saturday. I traveled with our Villages rugby team out to Levuka to watch their game against St. Johns. It was so much fun! Our villages netball team played as well and we sat together under some sulu’s to protect ourselves from the scorching sun. It was so fun to cheer with them and just enjoy some sporty entertainment for the day!! After the game I went back to the village and my new friend Bake (nickname, when he says it it really sounds like bik) invited me over for lunch. His family are vegetarians so it was really nice. I tried lumi (which is a type of seaweed around here) for the first time and it was quite delicious… I was just really excited to be eating green food again! After lunch I went back to my house, did some laundry, cleaned the darn thing (It was really dusty) and put away some more of my stuff. I wrote a speech for the Church service tomorrow as a welcome thing, so after I had some dinner I headed over to a shed across the creek to show it to my TK for final approval. Well, in the shed there was a good old fashioned grog session going on complete with music from the villages band. We were drinking grog out of a buoy that had been cut in half, and the men who were smoking were ashing their cigarettes into a half of a giant clam shell, can we see now the nautical influence of this place? It was really great to sit around with all the people and tell stories, have them get to know me, and for me to start getting to know more people.
Sunday (today). Went to church this morning and gave my little speech after being welcomed to the congregation and the village. The service was 2 1/2 hours long, and the person giving the sermon was literally screaming and pounding the podium the whole time… come to find out he is the supervisor of the prison in Levuka. When my aunt and uncle (neighbors) told me that I said, “Really? Because you couldn’t tell at all, he was so mild mannered…” that got a pretty good laugh. For lunch I went over to my aunt and uncles and had dalo leaves with garlic, ginger and onion held together by flour and egg and lightly fried dough balls. They also served me a package of Maggi (Ramen essentially) with like 2 heads of bok choy cut up into it. They apologized for not having more things to feed me, but I was so excited to be eating green things that it all tasted amazing. That’s one downside to Levuka and Ovalau is that there isnt much in the way of fresh produce around here. What is here is typically half bad and overly expensive.
Well that was a ridiculously long update, and hopefully I will be better about posting things regularly from here on out. I am starting to plan my garden and am allowed to use someone’s farm land to do it on. I’m super stoked to start that process and planning it so far has been consuming my free time. Right now I plan on planting carrots, red onions, regular onions, tomatoes, passionfruit, papayas, garlic (the bulbs don’t form here, but the garlic greens are delicious), lemongrass, dalo, bele, bell peppers, peanuts, cabbage, watermelon and arugula. Aliki and I are also meeting up next week to do a little seed exchange to increase the amount of things we can plant, we are both vegetarians so starting our own gardens is paramount in order to be able to fulfill our dietary and culinary needs. Later on (when the season is right) I’ll be planting chives, butternut squash, zucchini, cayenne peppers, rokete, calendula, ginger, a variety of other spices, and chickpeas.