So the past few weeks have been fairly frustrating for me in terms of projects. After returning from our PSN conference, I foolishly believed things in the village had changed overnight and that I would be going back to incredibly motivated and excited people willing to get their hands dirty and make some important changes. Well I was wrong. This led to a week of incredible frustration and to me griping to anyone who would listen, it was by far the biggest slump I had been in since arriving in Fiji. I would go into town and talk with the different ministries and government officials and attempted to start projects that way.
I went to the corrections facility in Levuka town, oddly enough the commanding officer of the corrections facility was the same individual who led that bible study that stated that men were 99% and women were 1%. That was an awkward realization. It was weird being at the corrections facility too, there are 17 inmates there for various crimes, and they are all men. If you consider the fact that they are locked up, seeing a woman, and especially a kaivulagi (white chick), must have been incredibly exciting because they didn’t miss the opportunity to stare, make cat calls, and ask me out. Well after spending my morning talking with the corrections officer, we decided that I would start leading workshops with the inmates as part of their rehabilitation program to create a set of important technical skills in the inmates so once they get out of prison they have options and skills that they can use. So on the 26th I will be leading a workshop on composting, seed saving, and organic gardening measures at the corrections center for 17 inmates and the 10 officers who work there.
After securing some project options in town, I saw my village headman talking with another individual on the street so I walked over to say hello. The new individual started asking the usual questions and I answered incredibly bluntly. “What do you do here?” “Well not much right now.” “why is that?” “Well the village hasn’t told me about the meetings, they care more about my personal life than any projects I want to start, etc etc.” Long story short I think my Turaga ni Koro finally got the message that I’m bored, frustrated, and want to actually get started on some important projects in the village.
The next day the village constructed an outdoor tap in front of my house so I can properly wash my clothes and have cleaner drinking water. I have only been asking for that for 5 months now. It took 1 1/2 hours to construct.
Later that day I went to the next village over, Tokou, to talk with my friend and make a bilibili (a bamboo raft) which I had asked about 7 different groups of people in my village to help me make. I don’t have a plot of land with bamboo on it, so I need to ask others to cut down the bamboo for the raft. Well I had been asking for this since I first got to my village in July so I can go out into the tabu area and make observations whenever I need to and not rely on other people to take me out. So my friend Apenisa and I had lunch at his house, talked about village life, and then went hiking up to his fathers plantation where there are a lot of bamboo bunches, and spent about 2 hours searching for and cutting down the proper lengths of bamboo for my raft. My raft is 8 pieces wide and about 3.5 meters long. We carried the bamboo back to the river and floated it down to the village proper. I then left to go back to my village to run homework club with the kids.
The next day it was pouring rain so I didn’t get the opportunity to go down to Tokou and finish my bilibili, but Apenisa called me and told me that they finished tying it together and that they would keep it in front of their village until I got back from my conference in Suva that is happening this week. So after 8 months, another village helped me with my bilibili. My village was jealous when they heard that the other village had helped and all I said was, “I gave you plenty of opportunities, I needed it done, so I went to someone who could finish it for me and not keep telling me ‘next week, next week'”. I’ve just become much more blunt about things with my village.
Well 2 nights ago when I was getting out of my rut, I was called by our Turaga ni Koro to come to the village hall. I actually had no clue what it was about but went anyway because I have just stopped asking questions, someone says “Come we go” and you do. So I get to the hall and there are 11 men there, all people I know, and all people I know who own pigs. Ahhh this is beginning to make sense I think. So he asks me to give a presentation about composting piggeries on the fly. Well I guess I did a decent enough job because they are all sold on the idea! The problem with pigs here is that they are usually located next to the water for ease of cleaning, well this breeds problems like increased algae concentration in the water, increased likelihood of skin and stomach diseases from drinking the water, and the contaminating toxic wastes that they produce. It is technically illegal in Fiji to have a piggery located within 100meters of a water source whether that be a stream, river, or the ocean. All of our pigs are illegal. So we decided to make one communal piggery where all the villagers can keep their pigs and take care of them and work together for the composting project and share the compost equally. I’m really stoked on this idea and hope that we get it off the ground soon and hopefully find funding to create the piggery itself which would be good to construct with concrete.
Well yesterday we found out that our annual fundraiser for the region gave the village back around 600 some odd dollars. The Turaga ni Koro said that they would use some of the money to repair the roof of the community hall and the rest would go to the library. I was stoked, but I assumed okay yeah this will take another 3 months for someone to actually buy the wood to make the shelves etc etc. That afternoon he came to my house carrying old timber he bought at a discounted price from our hardware store and recruited 5 people in the village to bring over their tools and construct shelves. Seriously? I had been dreaming of this day for months and months and moths. That room was the bane of my existence, it is attached to my house and is a breeding ground for rats, frogs, cockroaches, spiders etc. that infiltrate my home at any opportunity. There were books, magazines, manuals, posters, survey equipment, etc all just piled on the floor for lack of a better place to put things. In one day, they made the decision, bought the materials, and constructed 2 beautiful shelves in the room! They also purchased “lino” also called ibe ni vulagi (white peoples mats) which is like a vinyl floor covering. It was a beautiful thing. Absolutely beautiful. I left my house right after they arrived to do the construction because I am helping our village pastor perfect his English skills, he wants to become a reverend and part of that process is taking a test which has a large section on English skills (reading comprehension, word choices, short answers, and essay on a book they have to read, etc). So I spent about 4 hours there running through a practice test, someone brought us bananas and we made tea, it was a pretty fun thing to help with and he promised after his test in May that he will help me with my Fijian. Well I got back to my house and made the men working juice (way to go Tang!) and sliced up some oranges a kid had brought me the previous day. I walked into the room and sat the juice and snacks down, and our Turaga ni Koro laughed, said I would make a good Fijian wife, and cobo’ed (hollow clap) of appreciation for the ‘sevusevu’ I presented to them. We finished the construction at around 3:30 pm, I spent 30 minutes using my sasa broom (coconut spine broom) to get the dust and woodchips out of the mangled concrete floor and gave myself a lovely blister in the process… we blasted my radio, placed all the books on the shelves, fitted the lino, and I placed some floor mats at the doors. The Turaga ni Koro went to get the grog to celebrate the initial “completion” of the library, we still want more books for secondary students and adults, 2 computers so the kids can write their reports, and paint, but what we have is a beautiful beautiful start to the process. I was so happy about this step that I was singing and dancing to the radio (they had it on classic hits so it was like “Jesse’s Girl” “More than a Feeling” etc, how could you not dance?) The kids got back from school and everyone came in to look at it, it was such an incredible feeling of accomplishment. I actually had something tangible to see, to prove that we had done something that we worked together and now there was a physical place to show for it. Books, shelves, lino, it seems like so little, but it meant so much to me and to this village to see it.
We all took our baths, and then reconvened at around 7 pm to drink grog at the new village library as a celebratory thing. Grog accompanies all important events and I was so happy they all recognized this as important too. My momo Vuki patted me on the shoulder and said, “I see in your eyes what your heart is feeling, your eyes have been dull recently, now they are bright and lively and I know your heart is happy.” He was absolutely right, I needed this little victory to see something tangible, something real and not just discussions anymore. There were about 15 men in the library and me, all celebrating the new construction. Amini, an older gentlemen who always finds a way to make me laugh, was going to Suva the next morning like I was and so it was also a sending off party for all those leaving. We started at 7, I went to sleep at around midnight because the ferry bus comes at around 4-5 in the morning, and they continued drinking grog in my house. They were drinking until 2:30 am, but I was long asleep. They washed all the bowls and dishes they used, cleaned up the room, and closed the doors to keep my house safe. I woke up at 3:50 and 3 of the people who had been drinking grog at my house came to check on me to make sure I woke up for the ferry.
I prepared my house for my leave during our Project Design and Management conference (putting vinegar in my toilet to stop mosquitoes from breeding there while I’m gone, closing and locking all my windows, putting out my rubbish etc) and left for the ferry feeling much better than I had in the past 2 weeks.