Well once again it has been too long, it really feels like I have been traveling non stop since July. Between visitors coming to my site, going places with visitors, trainings, going back to America and just awkward 1 week periods of time where no work can really be done in the village.
My two most recent experiences included my parents coming to visit, and two of the Fiji Group 89 trainees coming to my site for a Host Volunteer Visit (HVV) as part of their Pre-Service Training.
So my parents. I will keep this brief because I asked my mom and dad to write a guest blog that will be featured here soon. It was nice to show them my side of Fiji though. I feel like now when I call and talk to them, post pictures, or even when they read blogs they can actually see and understand a bit more about what life in the village is like. Get excited for their guest blog. Its going to be awesome!
So after leaving my parents in Rakiraki town on Monday for them to continue their Fiji adventure, I moseyed on back to my village for one night alone before my two trainees came out to visit.
Now the purpose of a HVV is for trainees to come to an established volunteers site and see what everyday life is like for a volunteer who has been at site for over a year. Training is so scheduled and structured that the transition of being literally dropped at your home for the next few years can be, well, shocking. My job while they were here was to answer their questions, show them around, and show them a typical day… which is silly. There is no typical day in the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer.
So I cooked, cleaned, answered questions, took them on walks, took them diving at the marine protected area, took them to Levuka Town, etc. It was fun but now I am glad to have my village back to myself and just enjoy it the way I am used to.
Today begins village work week around here. The first week of the month when the men in the village cut the grass and do other activities deemed necessary for village maintenance. This month I asked, for the umpteenth time, to have a bilibili made. A bilibili is a bamboo raft that we use to go out to the reef. I want mine to use it for surveying the outer reef as its incredibly difficult to swim out as far as the reef break and back during high tide slugging along all my survey equipment, we shall see if it actually happens this month…
So lets talk about water because that is the topic that is really irking me right now. I got back to my village on Monday night and literally had mud come out of our taps from the Tokou water source. The Spring water source in the back of the village that I have been working on had clean clear water.
The spring source was a project completed by Habitat For Humanity Fiji in October last year and was improved by adding a higher wall to the dam in July funded by my college roommate Joe when he and Melissa came out to visit. The higher wall to the dam has prevented mud and other detritus from flowing into the catchment during periods of heavy rain.
Well, a few nights ago someone in the village came up to me and said the village was complaining about water problems, mainly that everyone in the village is suffering from diarrhea. Then they said it was my fault because the dam project made the water dirtier. What?! First off, the water that 95% of the village uses is the source from Tokou which is not protected at all. So yes, if we are consuming dirty water then we will of course get diarrhea. Its literally mud. But to blame the cleaner source which the taps are typically located outside and not used for drinking water is just beyond my comprehension. The most frustrating part of it is that no one has come to me and explained the issues and said we have a problem we need to fix. Angst. So I am calling a meeting this week to discuss what the water issues are and what we need to do to maintain good water in the village. This is something I have been discussing with them for months which is incredibly frustrating that its talked about, just not in my presence. Not to mention the fact that it is discussed but never in a setting that is conducive to achieving the desired outcome. No actions are being taken, no action plan made, no funds set aside to fix the problems. We will all just sit around and complain because that is easier than actually dealing with the issue at hand and fixing it.
Enough complaining right? Enough attempting to work and fix problems people are more comfortable discussing and complaining about not in my presence so no action will be taken to improve the situation. So I went down to Tokou, the next village on Friday night to discuss new projects with the turaga ni koro of their village. Tokou is an all Catholic village, a bit smaller, very cohesive, and very communal. They work together to solve problems and I hesitated working there before for fear of repercussions coming from my village about why I was working there and not here. Screw it. Im here to improve the lives of Fijians. I don’t care if that’s in my village or the one a 10 minute walk away.
So I got there, sat down with the Turaga ni Koro and discussed plans to improve their rubbish shelters along the beach to prevent rubbish from being blown onto the beach. This is the main issue in their village. They recently had a community hall project completed in conjunction with Seacology, a San Francisco based NGO which provides things like community halls in exchange for the village establishing a Marine Protected Area for 15 years. So Tokou just began their tabu on fishing and collecting. Why not work on another project to improve the beach ecosystem there?
Right now their shelters are just slats of horizontal bamboo so when the wind comes it whips up all sorts of rubbish and scatters it amongst the beach in large piles. The new plan is for the youth of that village, many of which are good friends of mine, to collect bamboo and on their village work week construct 3 sided structures around the platforms to prevent wind distribution of rubbish.
It was approved. After 2 minutes of talking. We are completing this project in conjunction with a beach clean up during the school holidays and a waste management work shop in the community hall with the entirety of the village. Beautiful. Something positive for me to look forward to!
After that meeting I was invited to a feast that was happening for a womans 80th birthday so I had cassava and fish and then finished with a cup of tea and scone. It was delicious. Afterwards I was invited to grog so I stayed there until the grog finished at 130 in the morning. When I went out to the front of the village to go walk up home, a carrier transporting people who work at PAFCO the fish company, back up to the village came by so I hitched a ride up to the village with them. Well it was a mistake for people to find out exactly where I had been because I have already had to deal with all the crap from being in the next village until 1:30am, I don’t think they know quite yet that I am working over there as well. People just think I have a boyfriend over there or something. Which is fine, ill let them think what they want as long as I get some positive changes in behaviours to occur on this island.
Another positive note- Fiji Day is coming up! Fiji Day is when Fiji officially became its own country and no longer a British Colony. This holds significant importance for Fijians living on Ovalau because the event occurred in Levuka, the first capital of Fiji. For Fiji Day this year, my village is having members of the village who live and work elsewhere come back to the village for a soli (fundraiser) to purchase materials for our community hall (cups, plates etc). I am hoping to ask for monetary donations to start our coral planting project. We need about 250 FJD to purchase the materials to make an underwater cage to store the corals and protect them as they grow before they can be transplanted back onto the reef to aid in restoration of degraded areas.
Part of what the women are doing for the celebration is a meke, a Fijian dance. I get to perform the meke with them which is exciting and nerve wrecking at the same time. I love dancing with them, but only practiced this one once and they have me standing in the front and center…. Awkward token white person position. It will be fun, I get to dress up and be pretty for a while and lets be honest, who doesn’t like traditional dancing to the beat of hollowed out bamboo???
More updates in the future.