Sick as a dog… This expression makes absolutely no sense. Has anyone ever seen a sick dog? Or at least seen them frequently enough to equate being sick to being a live dog?
Well aside from the absurdity of that phrase… that’s how I feel now. Sick as all hell. It started on Saturday with a low fever and just feeling tired with a sore throat… now I’m coughing, cant breathe out of my right nostril, and every time I lay down I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. My ears are also itchy… that’s a new one that I’ve never had before. Went to the hospital in Levuka this last Wednesday and my blood pressure and blood sugar were really low from not drinking enough water or eating enough… turns out I had a sinus infection and upper respiratory infection. Getting better now so that’s good.
Well anyway, enough complaining about being sick. Let me tell you a few stories about Viti life…
I dream here. A lot. Almost every morning I wake up remembering some crazy dream about some oddly real-life situations ranging from the village library I’m working on starting to packing up a room of old things with other PCVs. Maybe Fiji is in some crazy celestially-influenced part of the Southern Hemisphere infused with rich and vivid downpours of vibrant, real-life dreams. Did you know that most people don’t dream in color either? All my dreams here are bright and colorful. Interesting.
Well back to daytime things.
I went to my first Catholic Mass ever 2 Sunday’s ago. It was really beautiful, the songs, the church, even the sermon was given half in English! I went with Luisa, Koli and Selai (a family in the back of the village) and Luisa explained a lot of the traditions and reasons behind a lot of the objects in the Church and the rituals that were performed. It’s so nice to have her around! Koli and Selai (twins) were reading the scriptures and taking part in the service that day, so I went to support the family and to experience a new type of service. I must say my favorite part was the fact that the pews were spaced far apart (had to allow room for all the standing up, sitting down and kneeling)… the Methodist Church pews are so close together I feel like a giant. I guess my legs are just much longer that most Fijians. I typically find myself attempting to be a contortionist during the services just to find a way not to bruise my knees on the wooden plank in front of me.
On Monday I went to a grog session at the Turaga ni Koro’s house because a representative from Habitat for Humanity was there to discuss the new water project we are starting. The project is being initiated because right now our water source is based in Tokou, and in the past when there have been disagreements between the villages, Tokou will just shut our water off. There is also the issue of the use of weedicides and pesticides that the farmers in Tokou use near the water source that inevitably seep into the groundwater and thus contaminate the drinking water for all the villages it supports. This new project will consist of the construction of a dam around a natural spring about 2km up in the bush from my village that is diverted into a 30,000 Liter reserve tank. This tank will then pipe water into all homes in the village to be used for drinking and cooking. The Tokou water will remain a source for washing, toilets, etc. The project is set to take approximately 1 year of planning and development and then starting approximately next August-October (10 weeks) the construction of the dam, tank, and piping will occur. Hopefully by then we will have clean, fresh, locally sourced drinking water!
Tuesday was our Village Meeting (Bose va Koro) where the heads of different committees can voice their current projects, concerns, etc and the village can listen. Only certain people speak during these meetings and I am lucky enough to be given a spot of time to discuss things that I am working on as well. The highlight of this Bose va Koro had to be the fact that Momo Vuki (my Uncle Vuki) who was sitting next to me on the right (Luisa was sitting on my left) looked over at me right as the meeting started and said… “Man, something smells” to which I just nodded in agreement. Suddenly he lifts up the mat only to find a dead frog! Well me and Luisia just about cried laughing… we couldn’t laugh out loud because the meeting was going on, but we just sad there with our shoulders heaving, huge smiles on our faces, trying to suppress what seemed like inevitable bouts of laughter. All through the meeting the three of us joked about the dead frog under the mat and it kept the meeting lively and entertaining.
Wednesday I woke up to find that the S.O.B mouse that has become akin to my kitchen decided to gnaw its way through a bag of rice and a bag of sugar that I had on one of my shelves. I also found its poo everywhere. So I spent the morning seriously cleaning up my entire kitchen. Washing all the plates, silverware, cups, shelves, countertops, relocating food out of a mouse’s reach, then swept and mopped the floor. At around 10 Samu came by and asked if I wanted to go up to his plantation with him to plant some dalo, so of course I said yes. We hiked up into the bush for about 20 minutes or so before turning right after we passed a large cassava field. We then hiked down to where he was planting. He laid down some coconut branches for me to sit on while he worked on weeding and turning up the earth for the dalo I would plant. I’ve noticed that while women are respected here when they are strong, there is certain work they are not expected to do, and something like digging is just that. I feel awkward always sitting easy in the corner admiring the jungle while someone is digging and weeding on a precariously perched “terrace” of dalo plantings. After he finished, he asked if I wanted a bu (young green coconut) so I said yes and he went up to the coconut tree and got 4 down. He has the best style I have seen so far for cutting open the bu. The first cut he makes creates a “spoon” out of the outer husk that you can then later use to scrape out the soft bu flesh. He then hacks of the top in a series of well executed cuts with the machete and then just taps the top in a small circle with the back of the blade to pop out a quarter sized circle through which you can drink. Samu also went and found what he called “Fijian straws” which were basically a plant stem that was hollow in the center that we used to drink them with. After we enjoyed some bu, I hiked up to the place where he was weeding to plant my 14 dalo stems. Every farmer has his own techniques and secrets to planting dalo, tavioka and yaqona at their own plantation and its cool that I get to learn different techniques from different people in the village. On our way back out from the plantation we stopped and planted a vutu tree that bears small green fruits that have tasty nuts inside when the are ripe. One fun thing about going up to a plantation in the bush is that everyone calls to each other on their way in and out, just a long call of “Io!” or “Yo!” elicits a response from someone hidden up somewhere completely out of my line of site, but totally visible to Samu. Its amazing that the people up at their plantations in the bush can call to me too, I have no idea where they even are, but they know that its ME walking along… amazing. When we were about to leave Samu whispered to tell me to say “Au liu sobu!” which means I’m taking the lead! There was a chorus of hearty laughter followed by “Io, io, sota tale Ru!” or “yes, yes see you soon Ru”. So we began our hike back out. On the way down Samu taught me how to tell the difference between banana (jaina), plantain (Vudi) and ladies fingers (Liga ni Marama) trees before they bear their fruit. Its nice to have someone teach me information about this new environment. Sometimes I just feel lost looking around. That night I guess I forgot to look at my electricity box for a while because my power went out on me… the way electricity works here is that you go into town with your card to MH our grocery store, and tell them you want $3 or $5 of electricity units. So they type in the number on your card which corresponds to your box and then you get a receipt with a 16 number code on it that you then punch into your box at the back of the house and, Bam! You have electricity. I was lazy on Thursday morning and didn’t feel like going into town, so I gave someone at the bus stop $5 and my electricity card and asked them if they could please recharge my electricity while they were in town.
On Thursday I spent a lot of time walking around the village and surrounding areas working on my community map. We have 99 houses (many of which are empty) but still, a huge village! 3 Churches (Methodist, Pentecostal, and Revival) some small gardens and lots of other interesting things. One copy of the map is going into Levuka to be used by the council there to number the houses in the villages. So say if there was an emergency you could call and say that there has been a fire at house #49 and they could look at the map and know exactly where that’s at, saving time. The other copy is for me. I have marked out on it potential areas for future work like all the small streams and drainage outflows in the village, which homes have pit toilets, where the communal showers are located, where there are breaks in the seawall and footpaths, and where the piggeries are located and how any meters those are away from the ocean.
Friday was my first Fijian wedding, and it was a double wedding! The grooms were brothers so the families of the brides combined the day for ease. In Fiji weddings start early… around 8 in the morning with decorating the brides (I’m not sure about the grooms, it would have been tabu for me to go and check in on them before the wedding). The bride and her maid of honor are adorned with beautiful layers of tapa material (see facebook pictures) and then their hair is brushed through with Virgin Coconut Oil and sprinkled with Yasi (Sandalwood) that has been pounded into a fine powder. Then their arms, legs, hands and feet are brushed with the VCO. Many women come to this part of the wedding to bring their gifts to the brides and their families. At around 10 they walked to the church and got married! The service wasn’t much different than a traditional American wedding that would happen in a church, just longer. There was a baptism at the end of it too so that was an added bonus. Afterwards everyone gathers together at the community hall to partake in the wedding feast… it was huge. The cooking and preparations for the wedding had been going on all week. Once everyone gorges themselves properly, a short nap is taken and then everyone proceeds to one of the 3 sheds that had been constructed (1 for each bride and 1 for the brothers) for an afternoon, evening, night and early morning filled with endless bilos of grog and dancing. This is by far the best part. I got to the shed with Tomasi around 2 and left to go home at 1 (which is really early for wedding grog standards). I sat back near the mixing station. So in big situations such as this to ensure no one ever has to wait an unnecessarily long time for the next round of grog (meaning any longer than about 10 minutes) there is a group of young men sitting behind the tanoa (grog bowl) that just sit there and mix bucket after bucket of grog to refill the tanoa with whenever it looks slightly depleted in volume. Well that’s where I was sitting with Tomasi who was controlling the music on the boombox, Goro, Koli (my 12 year old friend) and his twin sister Selai. Well, I did a lot of dancing that night and the bride made fun of me a bit. So when I wear a sulu jaba (like the green one in my Facebook pictures) I always have to pull the skirt part up especially when I’m doing something like dancing because of my lack of a Fijian butt that would normally keep the skirts above your heels… So the bride called it the “Danisi na Vulagi” the white person dance. I don’t mind though, apparently Fijians like the Danisi na Vulagi because Ive been getting compliments on my dancing skills all week! Another funny thing about the dances… there are 2 types of dancing in Fiji. One is the taralala which is where you and another person dance side by side with your arms around each others waists and literally just kind of walk back and forth and turn in circles. I find this dance incredibly awkward. Especially when you are the only couple dancing in front of about 60 people in a shed. The second kind is like almost a normal dance… basically you stand facing your partner and shake it (modestly of course… this is Fiji…). Also fairly awkward when only a few people are up dancing. It is also typically the females job to go up to a male and ask him to dance, to do so you just walk up and lightly brush their knee I thought I could bypass this system and just lean over and ask Tomasi to dance but he looked back at me and literally said, “Stand up, and ask me properly!” Well that’s about all for the wedding. This sort of groggin’ and dancin’ happens for 3 days straight. I went on Saturday but then got sick on Saturday night/Sunday morning a sickness which many in the village attribute to me dancing too much during the wedding.
Sunday- sick. Koli came by around noon and told me he found a snake on the beach while walking back from church so of course I threw on my sulu and went out to check it out. We found the snake which must have enjoyed a fabulous last meal because it was so fat and a turtle shell. After checking those out for a while we walked out to Koromarai, the small island that you can see from the village and played around for a while. Went home, drank tea with honey, and slept.
Monday- still really sick. Tried to get into town but the carriers don’t run on a regular basis right now because the kids are out of school on a break right now. I waited at the shed for about an hour and a half and then just decided it wasn’t that important to head into town. Went over to my yaca’s around noon and was there til midnight drinking tea, sleeping, and she gave me a back massage with the virgin coconut oil to “Get out the cold”. Couldn’t hurt, plus I got a massage but I was still sick.
Tuesday- Had the Turaga ni Koro make an announcement to the village that the beach clean up I had scheduled for Wednesday would be cancelled because I was sick. Went over to my yaca’s house for dinner and tea and just kind of slept there for a while.
Wednesday- Went to the hospital in Levuka. Got 4 different prescriptions and when to the chemist to ge them filled. When I asked how much they cost he said “Who are you?” and I said “Samantha, a PCV from Natokalau” and he was like Oh, then it doesn’t cost anything. Free meds. Awesome. Since our PCMOs are out at training I have had to be in contact with the US Embassy doctors to get my visit and medication to the hospital approved, they were pretty helpful and have called to check in on me since Wednesday too which is nice.
Thursday- I’m apparently a really awful sick person because I just slept and read today. I did get up to make black bean hummus which is more of an event than I think most people realize. Soaking beans, cooking them, mashing them with my mortar and pestle… long process but so worth it.
Friday- Went into town to get cough syrup so that I can sleep through a whole night. The guy who owns the internet shop in Levuka and I had previously talked about me starting up a village library and when I was leaving he handed me a cardboard box full of books as my first donation! It lifted my mood so much, I don’t even think I can explain it. Physically holding those books made that shabby, junk filled room next door that is the source of my mice and cockroaches seem, if only for a gleaming second, like it could soon be a real, beautiful, book-filled library. Wonderful. After that I walked past the bus stand and some people from my village called out to me so I went there and put my box down then told them I was going to the post office to check my box. Fully expecting nothing, it was totally to my surprise to see a letter from my mom and a postcard from Steve and Sara when the went to Austria this summer! Awesome awesome day. That night Koli’s mom Luisa brought me 1/4 of a pumpkin so I cooked it up into pumpkin dumpling type things. Half of them were pumpkin curry flavored and half of them were pumpkin with cinnamon, sugar and nutmeg in them. Just made roti, cut them in half, put a spoonful of the pumpkin mix inside, folded up the edges and lightly fried them. Delectable.
Saturday- Went to breakfast at my yaca’s this morning and played “Chess” aka CHECKERS with Koli. Um. Apparently there are rules I wasn’t aware of in this game… like that a king can move (if its in line with a corner spot) directly to the corner and jump anything in its path… apparently it’s the “French” way of playing. I say screw the French that’s a messed up way to play. Well went back to my house around 10 and cleaned. Being sick all week sucks for your house… I washed all my clothes, swept up everything, organized my crap, washed the floor, sunned my mattress, mat, sheets, pillows and rugs. And just to toot my own horn… I collected all of that up and had my mat (the last thing) inside JUST as it started to pour rain. Literally talking about half a second here…. Pretty proud of that one. So now I spend a night in my very clean house working on organizing some other projects and preparing for the beach clean up that has been rescheduled for this Wednesday.