So since September 24th I have been on the main island of Viti Levu for the second part of our training, affectionately named Early Service Training or EST (since we are so fond of acronyms in the Peace Corps).
JC, the Program Manager (PM) for the Integrated Environmental Resource Management (IERM) sector came to my village to do a site visit on the 22nd and checked out the other 2 volunteers sites on Ovalau. The site visit is a way for him to come in, see what we have done so far in the village, ask us about resources or assistance that we need, and to generally get a better understanding of our roles and interactions with our villagers. JC presented a sevusevu to the village in order to be welcomed and along with the traditional bundle of un-pounded yaqona root he brought cigarettes (a village favorite), loaves of bread, butter and tea. He stayed around for the grog session (and actually came by 2 other nights to have grog in my village which was fun), we listened to our sigidrigi band and I danced with some of the people in the village. My last night in the village JC came to drink grog. I started drinking at 6pm and we finished up at around 1 am. It was a long night of grog, dancing and singing and a ton of people from the village were there to say goodbye. Well grog was still in full swing when I decided to step out and get a little bit of sleep… JC picked my up at 4 in the morning so we could pick up the 2 other volunteers and get to the ferry in time for it to leave at like 6am. Needless to say, I was very very tired when JC came by the bus stop to pick me up. The ferry ride over to the mainland was really nice and I ran into Amini, a guy from my village, who bought me a coffee so we could talk over some plans about continuing to look for donations and ways to construct the village library. We got to the Naitovi landing and then had JC drop us of in our host village of Naimasimasi in the Tailevu province. Me and Eliki decided to spend the weekend with our host families from training to just catch up and reconnect with them about the work we have been doing and how much our language has progressed in the past few months. Throughout the day the rest of the people who were in our training village rolled in (Buna from Vanua Levu, and Te and Atama from Sigatoka area) so the 5 of us just enjoyed the weekend catching up with each other etc.
On Monday we all headed up to Nadave to start our training program. We are basically discussing project sustainability, village development plans to aid in determining priorities, etc. Nadave was fun, but well… it was Nadave. And I think all the volunteers have had just about enough of trainings there. The food there is just not so fabulous. Half of the time we just cant determine what it is- take for example the odd vegetable dish floating in some gelatinous white mixture which we determined to contain corn starch… and not much else. While in Nadave I got a call from someone in my village who told me that this huge conference for FLMMA (Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas) which was supposed to be held in December, was now moved to the first week of November. So instead of heading out the the Beach House (this backpackers lodge halfway between Pacific Harbour and Sigatoka town) to spend the weekend with a few of my friends… I stuck around in Nadave with 2 other volunteers to work on the report I have to have ready for it on the status of our MPA. Angst. Well by Sunday morning I had enough of Nadave and had nearly completed the report, so I hopped on the bus to Nausori, then to Suva, then out to Beach House to meet up with my friends. Just a little bit of proof that you never TRULY get out of your village- when I got off the bus with Adam and Joel (the two that stayed for the weekend in Nadave) the representative for Habitat for Humanity who has been working in the village on our water project walked off and said hi to me and the other volunteers for a bit. What do you think the first thing I heard about when I went back to the village was? “Rusila! We heard you were going out to Sigatoka with two boys! One of them was tall and the other one was shorter, and you were wearing a blue dress…” Right.
Anyhow. Beach House was such an odd and incredible experience. I was invisible. It’s a popular tourist destination and for the first time since being in Fiji, I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb. It was just so weird. Normally, I would have found it easy to talk to other people “like me”, but here, we ended up talking in Fijian with the people who worked there more than anyone else. It was so nice to lay on the beach in a hammock and not worry about the fact that I was wearing shorts and someone from the village might come and see. That night me and Kimberly played pool against 2 of the Fijian guys that worked at the bar and I almost won a game against Blix… When we teamed up Me and Blix and Kimberly with Mela we named our teams after the regions where we lived, so we were team Ovalau and Kim was team Ra. It was nice to take a break from what life is really like here, but I am so glad places like that don’t exist on my island. I think it would be too difficult popping back and forth between two totally different worlds all the time, and knowing that that type of escape exists near you.
Monday to Wednesday the group was split up into our two programs, Environmental and Health. The environmental volunteers (12) visited 2 villages located between Sigatoka and Pacific Harbour where current FRE-8 volunteers are working. In the first village we did coral planting (which is SO AMAZING), mangrove planting, and a few other sessions on waste management and village development plans. I am super stoked to start coral planting out here, its basically taking a small chunk of healthy coral and either directly transplanting it by hammering it with a U-nail into a piece of dead coral so that they polyps spread and re-colonize that area, or by constructing a nursery habitat. To do that you make these cement “cookies” with red oxide and cement and make a small depression at the top with your finger before it dries. When you are ready to put them in the nursery (basically an iron cage in a location of the MPA that is never exposed by a low tide) you mix up a marine epoxy into a small ball, put it in the depression and then stick the small chunk of coral in the epoxy. The “cookies” are then left and tended to in the nursery habitat for anywhere from 3-6 months until the grow nearly 5-10x their original size, and then they are transplanted by placing the “cookie” into an area of dead coral. We learned a lot about different types of mangrove planting and creating a nursery habitat and we also took a hike up to a beautiful waterfall in the interior. While we were staying in those villages, all the environmental girls stayed in one house and the guys in a different one, it was kind of hilarious and we all felt like we were on a sleepover in 6th grade. On Wednesday when we went back to Suva to complete the rest of our training, we stopped on a beach that overlooks Beqa island to have our lunch on the hood of one of the Peace Corps trucks. On the last hour of the ride back to Suva, Lisa, one of our program managers for Environmental volunteers busted out a bag of Toblerone chocolates that someone brought to the office from Australia and I think all of us simultaneously started to drool… we demolished the bag in about 5 minutes.
Wednesday night to Saturday morning we were all in Suva having sessions at the Peace Corps office. We had some sessions with our new Country Director, talked about what we learned during our “field trips” etc. All the environmental volunteers got to Suva around 3pm and then we saw all the men from the health group at about the same time… but none of the health women… so we inquired to their whereabouts. Turns out the health girls had stayed at the lodge that they were having their training at to have mud baths, massages, and bathe in hot springs…. ??? It was funny when all of us heard that, we gave em a hard time about what a stressful training session they must have had! Well Suva is, Suva. Rainy… all the time. They really moved the capital to the crappiest corner (weather-wise) of Fiji. We pretty much all just enjoyed the last few days we had with each other, got resources from the Peace Corps office (I added about 25 pounds of books to my pack before leaving), saw our Medical Officer, oh yeah, and we did more training. We also got certificates of participation because in Fiji, certificates are like gold. I showed some people when I got back to my village and they just said, “WOW! Sa yawa Rusila!” (Awesome, Ru).
Saturday morning a lot of us heard about an incredible brunch at the Holiday Inn from another PCV, so for our last morning we decided to check it out. Well, as soon as we walked in we were so floored by the expanse of food set out that we forgot to ask how much it cost. Well turns out it cost 37 FJD…. Woops. Well when I heard that… I pocketed some apples, oranges, and jam packets for home since I cant really get those things out on Ovalau. The lady who was working there heard that we were PCVs and started speaking to us in Fijian and ended up dropping the price in half for us which was incredibly nice. She also introduced us too like the most famous Fiji 7s rugby player whose name escapes me right now… but he lives in Washington State part time which was pretty funny. After breakfast we all went to check out of the hotel and catch our various transport to wherever we were headed. My bus doesn’t leave for Ovalau until 1:30pm so I just sat around and read my book until it came by. As I was getting on, another kaivulagi was getting on behind me, which I though was odd… so I introduced myself. Well it turns out she came here from Australia to marry a Fijian in Levuka. Super. Another example of a kaivulagi marrying a Fijian for the village to add to their list of examples and reasons why I should do the same. She was very nice and on the ferry when they made the announcements in Fijian she asked me to interpret for her- so I gave her a little Fijian lesson which was fun. It takes about 5-6 hours for the bus-ferry-bus ride to get to my village, and by the time we hit the settlement I visit a lot about 2 miles above my village I started seeing people I know. Its so nice to have people yell your name from their houses! By the time we rounded the last corner before my village I could hardly sit still… we stopped right next to some guys tukituki na yaqona (pounding the yaqona root to mix later) who looked up and greeted me warmly. Beso came over and joked around with me for a while and then helped me carry my bag back to my house. As we walked through the village, everyone called from their houses or porches to greet me, it felt so nice to be home. Well I basically threw my stuff in my house turned right back around and started walking around the village saying hi to people and telling them about my trip. At around 7 I walked to the other side of the village to a shed where they were having grog to celebrate the completion of the water project. I waited behind a bush in the dark until Tawake started singing the next song and walked over. People started clapping and laughing and yelling to me to come drink, so I walked in and sat down. It was an awesome night of drinking, singing and dancing and it just made me so happy to be back home. I had really missed my village after being gone for a little over 2 weeks and this grog session was the perfect welcome back to the village!
Sunday was, as always, a day of tabu things which was terribly unfortunate because that meant that I couldn’t wash my incredibly stinky clothes or go into town to buy food. So I cleaned my house that various animals had decided to take over in my absence and read through some materials for future projects. I went to bed super early that night.
Monday. Fiji Day! Fiji was officially declared an independent nation on October 10, 1970 so this year marked the 41st anniversary. I did my laundry this morning, even though it was pouring rain outside… that stuff just could NOT wait for the weather to cooperate! I hung up a line inside my house, rolled up my mat so the water wouldn’t damage it, and then just hoped for the best. It took 2 days to dry, normally when the sun is out, it takes about an hour or two. We had a sending off party for the 4 people who had come to our village from Habitat for Humanity to help with the water project. They were given woven mats (na imbe), brooms (sasa), and coconut oil (waiwai ni niu) and a huge feast as a thank you. Afterwards there was grog at the community hall to celebrate the new working tap of fresh clean water pumping out from near the hall. Another day and night full of singing, dancing, and naturally grog.
Tuesday. Finally went to town. Spent quite some time there talking to people, using the internet, and buying produce. I also picked up some care packages from my parents with some stuff in them from my cousin Jenn! They were packed full of delicious things like sun dried tomatoes, olive oil, mentos, Annies Mac n Cheese, an underwater camera (so look forward to those pictures!) and a new knife, veggie peeler, and tons of other wonderful stuff! I got back to the village around 4 and walked to my friend Juniors house- they were gutting dri (sea cucumbers) to sell in the market. It was one of the most disturbing things I had ever seen since being here. I really like sea cucumbers, and when I had classes and worked at Shannon Point Marine Lab in Anacortes, those were always the things that caught my eye in our flow tanks. Tuesday night I had about 10 people coming and going from my house all afternoon as I cleaned my house well, put things away, and drafted a letter for Ben asking for assistance in the implementation of a similar water project for his settlement. There was a death of a well respected and old man in the village on Saturday (the day I returned) and so that night, I went to the families house to pay my respects with silence and grog. All the women of that Mataqali were at the house and all the men were at a shed created right next to it. The funeral will be held on Friday.
Wednesday. Went into town again to print off the letter for Ben to send it in. He is such a kind man, we met at the Whales Tale, my favorite restaurant in Levuka and he bought me breakfast and then we walked around town and he got me some fruits (kavika and bananas) which was great, he is also bringing some papayas from his settlement down later this afternoon. He is going to be really instrumental in the work I do here- he is likeminded, progressive, determined, focused, and knows how to handle Fijian culture better than I ever could because he was born into it. I cant wait to get started on projects with his help!
On a side note- its freakin HOT here. Ive been sweating since 5 am when I got up and have been taking 2-3 showers a day just to stay cool. I think I’ve also been drinking about 5 liters of water a day. It’s only going to get hotter too… why does this perpetual summer not end?
Once again friends, sorry for the hiatus… but training is just a hectic time to find a few moments to sit around a talanoa (tell stories) via computer.
Sota tale kecekece! (Soon all)