I think these are the two most valuable words to a Peace Corps Volunteer at any point in their service. Inspiration and Commitment. Seems easy enough right? It can be at times, but it can also be incredibly draining and exhausting to constantly be the one who is trying to inspire a whole village, to create such excitement about projects and ideas that others follow easily to learn new information and ways to protect this incredible place. That constant inspiration of others, well, it takes a lot of commitment.
I have had a few “off” weeks. I will place part of the blame on my third (yes, THIRD) bout of giardia. I’ll save you the gnarly details but if you want to know what it is, Wikipedia it, it’s not pretty. A lot of my reclusiveness in the past weeks has also been due to the fact that most of the group I came here with (FRE-9 or Fiji 88’s as we get called now) have officially COS’d and are traveling around the world or have gone home and I’m still here. On this tiny island that’s approximately 180 square kilometers (for reference, Rhode Island is 4,002km2) it can feel incredibly isolating and lonesome without a great project to divert your attention to. I realized after a few days that I needed to just take a break which can be really hard to do out here. On the main islands in Fiji (Vanua Levu and Viti Levu) there are about 12 volunteers per island meaning volunteers can just hop on a bus for about $10 and go spend the weekend with someone new, visit a new area, etc. That’s nearly impossible being stationed out here. Just to get into Suva costs $35 one way, plus any bus fare to another area, some money to compensate the volunteers I would be staying with, and then reversing the cost of the whole trip just to get back. Its just not worth it to me most of the time to spend 20% of my monthly living allowance just get off the island for the weekend. So I resigned myself to my house for a solid week aided by the fact that I had unpredictable emergencies caused by the giardia infection. I stayed at home drinking tea and watching endless episodes of LOST. Word to the wise… don’t watch LOST in Fiji… especially on a small island. There are entirely too many similarities to ensure your sanity remains intact.
Finally, one morning I woke up and decided enough was enough. It was time to change the world. Recommit myself to the process; inspire myself so that I could in turn attempt to inspire others. The week or so I gave myself as a break was exactly what I needed and I ended up a better volunteer for it.
I have spent days pouring over resource books I have stashed in the library we built attached to my house. Workbooks on freshwater education, disaster management, clean water workshops, biological monitoring etc. and committed myself to 3 projects I think will be just awesome.
- PCPP Water Infrastructure Development Project: I have been working really hard on the preparation for this project which we won’t be starting until after the construction of the pig pen. I don’t want this project to just be construction and having more water available here in the village. I want this project to be a demonstration, I want the village to learn how to purify their own water with biological filters, I want them to understand disease transmission, how to prevent water from being contaminated in the first place etc. It’s been taking me days creating lesson plans, translating them into Fijian, finding new ways to teach this information so that people are incredibly excited about creating and sustaining clean water sources in the village.
- World Map Project: A world map project is a really common Peace Corps Project throughout the world, you can look up images of world maps throughout the world. It’s a great way to teach village children about geography and a really fun project for the village to come together on. We are going to paint the mural on the side of my house. The map will be 140cm by 280cm and we are going to create a border around the outside of the map that is the masi design. I’m really excited about this project and cant wait to see how this village pulls together for it!
- Oceans Fair: This is probably the project I am most excited about. It came about while drinking grog one night at a friends house and I have just been adding to it ever since. It will take a while to pull everything together, but once we do… well I just cant wait to see how it goes! The premise for the idea is that the village will host a 3 day Fair centered around Marine management and knowledge enhancement. We will host representatives and individuals from each of the 5 villages in our district (tikina) as well as have representatives to participate and present from different ministries in town. The Fair will include games, activities, and workshops. Things like a bilibili race (bamboo raft races), water polo games, beach volleyball games, small fair like games for the children all with an oceans theme. We will have activities like beach clean ups, mangrove planting, monitoring excursions, coral planting, and lumi farming interactive learning sessions. All of these will be coupled with presentations and workshops in various marine areas like reef conservation, biological monitoring, catch per unit effort, the impacts of Marine Protected Areas, how to take care of your MPA, EBM (ecosystem based management) explaining the linkages between what we do in the mountains and in the village and how this impacts our oceans. I’m so excited to plan this and can’t wait to see it come together. We will probably host this sometime in December or February.
Aside from these new (or in the case of the PCPP project, revamped) projects… I started doing things just to make myself happy.
I made chapstick from beeswax, virgin coconut oil (that I had made last month), raw honey, and lemongrass essential oil that I made about 8 months back. Its refreshing and nice to make something for yourself.
I made bagels. A lot of bagels. They are SO easy and such comfort food its ridiculous!! Just take 1 TBSP yeast, 1 TBSP sugar and ¾ cup warm water. Wait about 5 minutes or so until the yeast gets all bubbly. Add around 2 cups flour, 1 tsp oil, and ½ tsp salt. Mix it all up and knead until smooth. Cut into 6 equal parts, sprinkle each with a little extra flour and roll (like when kids make “snakes” with play dough…) connect the ends together by pinching. Boil a pot of water and add a tablespoon of sugar to it. Pop in 3 bagels at a time and let boil in the water for approximately 30 seconds per side. Take them out from the water and drain all excess water away. Place on a flat surface (I use my cutting board). Cover the bagels with a dishtowel. After about 15 minutes cover the bottom of each bagel in polenta (cornmeal) and bake. I don’t have an oven so I don’t really know what temperature or for how long. On my stove oven its about 15 minutes on medium high. If you really want to replicate what my bagels turn out like, turn on your gas stovetop, place a cast iron, or other heavy bottom dish down. Fill the bottom with cleaned sand or even leveled gravel, place a smaller dish on top (I use the pan from my backpackers set I brought with me because there is no handle, you could use a pie dish or just a circle cake pan). Invert a large pot over the top, ideally one that lines up with your heavy bottomed skillet and “seals” the thing together. Bake those bagels! Like I said, I have been obsessed with bagels. I made cinnamon raisin bagels and topped them with peanut butter… regular bagels and made sandwiches out of them, and “Italian bagels” with oregano, garlic and basil baked into them and then sliced them in half and cooked them again with tomatoes and veggies on top to simulate bagel pizzas. Like I said, bagel obsession.
I also decided to start some French beans growing in my window sill until they get big enough for me to put outside without fear of the man wielding the brush cutter slicing them apart on grass cutting days! I dried out some French bean pods I bought at the vegetable stands in Levuka town, then placed them in recycled 1.5liter Fiji Water bottles with the sides cut out, and slits cut in the bottom for proper water drainage. Inside the bottles I placed a little bit of gravel to aid in drainage, its so humid here and rains so much the last thing you want is for your plants to get waterlogged and mold… then topped them with some compost mixed with a little bit of washed sand to aid in aeration. I then put 2 seeds per bottle and watched em grow! My test went well so I now have 2 plants that are much more mature than my other plants! Hopefully in about 3 months I will have an awesome amount of French beans growing right in front of my front door! Just have to hope the chickens, wild dogs, land crabs, mice and children don’t get to them first…
I also started thinking about income generating projects to do with the Women’s Group here in the village that requires little to no initial capital to start up. I thought about what every woman loves… and came up with the idea that we could make chocolate! We have wild cacao trees growing in the bush behind the village and in a grove about 2 miles down the road so one day I went and grabbed 3 big pods and started my experiment. I haven’t told anyone in the village about it yet, I want to see if I can get the pods to properly ferment and then run through the whole process myself first to see if it’s a viable option before getting a group excited about something I can’t deliver on. It would be a really fun way for the women to get together and make something we can sell in the village or even in town if it turns out well… stay tuned for details on this one!
So this is what my mind has been churning out lately. Hope you enjoyed hearing about it!