Tavola, Cacao, and Lovo’s- Oh My!

I have a new address! From now on, please send things to:

Samantha Russell
Box 142
Levuka, Ovalau
Fiji Islands, South Pacific

So much happens in a week! And the concept of time is so fluid here… I will just recap some highlights of this week.

1. Helped the youth group make a lovo and prepare vakalavalava which is grated cassava in water which is then strained out, mixed in with vundi (like plantains), and sugar. They are then wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in the lovo (earthen oven). I helped to make the lolo (uncooked coconut milk) by grating and then squishing the shaved coconut with water and moli (oranges). The lolo was mixed with bele and some peppers to make an afternoon snack. Needless to say it was a delicious and fun afternoon!

2. I found 2 huge cockroaches in my house one night in the most unpleasant of ways… The first was when I went to the bathroom before going to sleep around midnight. I walked in and there was a huge hissing cockroach (about 3″ long) just sitting on the wall. Too scared to pee anymore, I went and grabbed my tennis shoe from under my bed to find what inside? Yes another massive cockroach. Left sneakerless, having to pee, and terrified of the hissing monsters I grabbed my chacos from the front door and threw one in the bathroom (which squished the bugger in two) and stomped down on the one in my shoe (he died on impact). Alskdhfbglsaf;l. That’s how I feel about those buggers.

3. I’ve started going on long walks in the evenings to get my bearings and to just fill my time with something. Its been really nice to get out of the village for a bit and just enjoy the beauty of this place.

4. Samu helped me this week to build a structure for my compost bin. He studied agriculture in Sigatoka and has been really helpful in teaching me about gardening in Fiji and about local perceptions of farming etc. My structure is beautiful and I owe it all to Samu, I would have never though to have constructed in the way he did and I’m so grateful!

5. I was supposed to visit our MPA this week, but it was rescheduled because it rained and was very windy the day we were supposed to go out. We row out there on a bilibili (bamboo raft) and he said it wasn’t quite safe to just risk it then. So we are rescheduling for sometime this week. He also said he would take me to the waterfall in the next village over and hiking up to the mountains which I am really stoked about.

6. I got a membership to the Levuka Public Library and already checked out my first few books! Also, like the nerd I am… I went and found a reference book on Pacific molluscs and started writing the descriptions in a sketch book so that when I find the shells I can classify them and draw them in.

7. I attended our village meeting (Bose ni Koro) on Monday. The guests of honor were the Provincial Administrator and the head of the Police department. It was slightly awkward because much of the meeting was about me… explaining who I was, the fact that I’m a vegetarian (who doesn’t eat tinned fish! WOW!) and my momo (uncle) explaining that he lives right next door and that all the boys need to stay away from my house. One of the noteworthy things that happened was that a woman asked if they could harvest seasonal seaweeds from the MPA to which the PA said, a tabu area is a tabu area and that needs to be respected in all aspects. It was really good to hear that and gave me an idea for a project, setting up seaweed farming areas within and outside the boundaries of the MPA. This helps in 2 respects. 1) to bolster the population and health of the seaweeds contained within the MPA thus aiding fish health and overall diversity of the MPA, and 2) to give the women an area to sustainably harvest without depleting the natural resources they are working so hard to protect. Many more project ideas and updates to come, our first 3 months at site are all about integration and trying to hear the perspectives and ideas of as many different villagers as possible to really make sure the work we do is meaningful and deemed as important by the village itself.

8. On Sunday, Aliki, me and four of the girls from the village went on a walk around part of the island. We saw the area where the villages trash is collected and subsequently burned… and a bit later on down the road we found a cacao plantation! The land belongs to no one, which is highly unusual in Fiji, so we walked in and got some of the cocoa fruits and ate them during our walk! The fruit is so odd, green/yellow to almost orange in color and looks slightly like a papaya. When you crack open the inside however, the fruit inside is not at all what I would have expected. The bitter seeds (that are purple, not brown like I would have thought) are encased in this white, slimy, goop and are shaped like rounded triangles stacked on top of each other inside, almost like an ear of corn. Well, they were delicious and the girls said that we would do that every Sunday. On the walk back we also found some coconuts on the side of the road, so now I can have fresh coconut milk and make some lolo for myself this week! After our walk we went back to our beach and cracked open some tavola seeds that we found on the beach (they taste surprisingly like small almonds) and then played hopscotch in the sand.

There are some difficulties with living in a village as well. For example, in my village most of the women work at PAFCO the tuna canning company out in Levuka, the children go to school, and the men work in their gardens during the day so it can get a bit lonely until about 3-4 when everyone returns.

One thing that is hard so far is understanding. Its hard going from being surrounded my people who have known you for a long time to being surrounded by people who have known you for a week. It’s lonely sometimes being stuck in my own head… A lot of the people in the village are gone during the day (the men in the farms, the kids at school and the women working at the tuna company) so I try to fill my time with reading, drawing, and walking around the village finding the people who are home doing things. Im trying really hard to learn lots of new things and get involved in as many ways as possible to try to ease the transition. But change can be taxing, and what I really crave is a good dark beer at Uisce’s, a game of darts, and the fellowship of my old pals.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Tavola, Cacao, and Lovo’s- Oh My!

  1. Difficult… you had me at cochroaches. I can only imagine how difficult the transition would be. Keep up the good work. My guess is that soon you will get busier. By the way, what a great idea for a project.

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