This will likely be an earnest, though potentially infrequently updated, account of my adventures, tribulations,
and everyday experiences as I spend two years working as an environmental Peace Corps volunteer in Fiji

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

And Suddenly It's Over!

Well to my faithful followers, much thanks indeed for spending a slice of your time over the past three years indulging in my silly stories. I hope that at times they were informative as well as entertaining. I really enjoyed sharing these adventures with you... even if I did so sparingly.

So, after three years in Fiji, my service with the Peace Corps as finally come to a close. How sad I am that my last post was back in December - so much has happened since then. I suppose that is my excuse too for not sharing any of it.

Here's a few highlights:

1. I went home for the holidays! For three weeks I romped around in the New England snow again. Best of all, I was able to bring my soon to be husband along for the ride! How wonderful and amusing it was to subject a native Fijian to a New England winter. What did he do upon seeing snow? Took off his shoes and ran around barefoot.

Snow!

Norman mixing some Christmas eve grog with the fam

Christmas morning

Christmas dinner

Hampton Beach! He wasn't up for a swim.

My mom loved having the extra hands to shovel the driveway

Boston

At the Whaling Museum in New Bedford, MA; Norman standing next to a tabua (whale's tooth) from Fiji

We each found our twin...


Snow tubing!

And of course a trip to the aquarium.

2. As you no doubt gathered from highlight # 1, I got married! My hubby, Norman, is a native Fijian, but awesomely enough he is also descended from a whaler from Nantucket who got stranded in Fiji in the early-mid 1800s. It was good for him to get back in touch with his New England roots. 


We did a simple government ceremony and celebrated afterward.  Hoping to have a proper ceremony back home!

ah l'amour

Signing the certificate

The wedding party!

And finally the requisite evening grog celebrations:)

3. I continued to do my work at the Provincial Office - taking on a new and most excellent project - ecotourism. The reason for its added excellence is namely in the fact that I was able to enjoy various touring adventures as part of my job! The motivation behind this initiative was to aid communities with income generation but also to help them design their projects so that they would be environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Walking out to a protected area at low tide.

I organized a large ecotourism stakeholders meeting bringing together 20 or so communities with local resorts, tour operators, tourism experts, and the local government (my office). Through the meeting, we formed the Ca'au Eco-Tourism Association (CETA), which will allow the participating communities to share resources and ideas and to stand together in this project to preserve the best interests of the indigenous peoples.

Giving a presentation on basic business
Going out to view a new marine protected area and participate in the demarcation

Collecting coconuts

Trekking through some bush as part of a local eco-tour that was in development.

The trek led to this beautiful waterfall swimming hole.

Some local diving :D
I was able to attend the big annual provincial meeting (bose ni yasana) where all of the district chiefs and various government officials come together to discuss... everything. Surprisingly, the meeting only lasted one day (normally it's two); unsurprisingly, upon conclusion, the meeting materials were swept away and the grog/dance party began!

The three in charge of running the big meeting; the one on the far right was my boss - Roko Tui Cakaudrove

My office had the responsibility of all the set-up and running, etc for the meeting; this also meant that we were more or less the only ones without chairs!

The meeting was held on top of this hill on Taveuni with an incredible view. The facility was a well run agricultural training center.

Waltzing at the party :)

Most of the kaivulagi (white people) that worked at the Provincial office!
I participated in a bunch of other workshops as well and had the unique opportunity to go deep into the highlands of Vanua Levu to aid in outreach to a community that is far removed from everywhere else. Oh, and I somehow ended up organizing a rescue effort to save a stranded (not beached!) minke whale in Natewa Bay...


  
Hard at work - integration through grog and cards













All Fijians are expert card players
My counterpart fabulously showing the community we visited that is situated deep in the interior

This community is so far off the beaten path that many families have chosen to leave the village in search of a home elsewhere, where they can be closer to better education, medical services, people, etc. Only a fraction of the houses in the village are presently occupied.


Out on the water in search of the stranded whale! Stranded makes it sound like it would be easy to find, but really, the whale was just stuck at the end of a long bay and we were trying to determine why it wasn't swimming out - if something was trapping it there or if it was injured, etc.

We were finally able to get up close to it. It was a minke whale that was not yet fully grown. It had a large gash on its back that was perhaps caused by a boat/engine.  After taking a look at the rest of the bay, it seemed evident that nothing was blocking its exit. So we left it alone, assuming that it was looking for refuge while it healed. It was still a few months away from feeding season, so if it didn't swim out by that time, we were going to have to attempt an actual "rescue" ... by which I mean, we would find a way to force it out before it starved to death. But in the end, it healed fine and made its own way back out to sea.


4. I had many tearful goodbyes. After three years, I was ready to close my service and move onto my next phase in life, but that didn't make it easier to say goodbye. There were speeches and ceremonies, lots of singing and, of course, grog. The process of leaving soaked up my entire month of July and much of it is a blur.

...alas, I don't have any of those pictures yet until I can fix my camera


5. On August 2nd, 2014, I officially closed my service with the Peace Corps.

So, now I have returned home and am looking for the next big adventure... oh, not really. I suppose it's time for me to have my feet on the ground again for a while. I'm looking for a job to kill the time before I start grad school for marine biology/oceanography either in January or next fall. I am also working tirelessly to get my husband here from Fiji. It is slow going for a variety of reasons... most of which is waiting. But with a little luck, Norman will be home for the holidays :).

With that, my friends, I will at long last sign off.

Moce mada vakalailai!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What Now?

Just how terribly in suspense are you that you continue to read this blog? My consistency is awful...at least I'm consistent about that. Since coming back to Fiji a lot of stressful things happened to me to the point where I feared I was about to be told to turn around and board the next plane headed states side. Calm down - I didn't do anything wrong and thankfully nothing bad has happened to me or my person. It was job related, site placement related, a bit political, and every bit ridiculous.

In the end though, things ended up working out better than I could have hoped! I have a fun little house in a mixed Fijian/Indian neighborhood and have been very busy working at my new job - conservation officer for the Cakaudrove provincial council. See some pictures below on the waste management competition I organized for our local district - I was so impressed!

So, I'm sitting at home on the eave of leaving for a three week trip back to the states to celebrate a New England Christmas with my family for the first time in three years. I will be bringing my significant other on this trip and am greatly anticipating both the fun and challenge of taking a native Fijian and thrusting him knee deep into some good old powder. I haven't mentioned him before but with his permission, I'll be sharing some of our undoubtedly crazy experiences with you all upon our return to the tropics.

Before I post my next story about some life threatening dangers experienced on rough waters comparable to those of Capt. Bligh (well, without the mutiny), I'm throwing a few pictures up here first so you can see a bit of what my new neighborhood is like and what it's like getting a little exposure to the Indian culture here in Fiji.
On the overnight ferry to Suva - alas, the regular boat was out so they had this tiny little thing that nearly sunk on the starboard side every time it dropped the loading ramp. Indeed because it was so small there was not even sort of enough room for all of the people they sold tickets to, so we slept outside on the top "illegal" area on those giant hard red "life rafts." At least it didn't rain...much.

Participating in climate change workshop being given to all of the provincial officers in Fiji - explaining about climate change and introducing the Fijian government's initiative to assist village communities adapt to its effects and mitigate its causes

Fresh spring drinking water!

This village extends like a lollipop out into the ocean/mangroves with only this bridge to connect it. As cool as it is to have an awesome mote, this village is facing the effects of climate change - rising sea levels - and soil erosion. Soon enough this whole unique settlement will be underwater and its inhabitants relocated.
My climate change workshop group - they were a ton of fun and very enthusiastic and motivated to participate.

A few pics of the new digs:



The new house! It's really lovely :)
My house on our stay in dinner date.
My Happy Thanksgiving french apple cake :P


The Savusavu Waste Management Competition!

This is more or less what I've been working hard on for the past 2-3 months. I conducted a series of workshops in each of the nine villages in the Savusavu district on waste, its harmful effects on people and the environment, ways to manage it properly and then I kicked off the competition challenge: members of the women and youth groups from each village were to form a team that would work together to design a doable project that could properly manage some form of waste.

They could be as broad or specific as they wanted focusing on all of the litter found in Savusavu town or just on dealing with scrap fishing net that plagues their village. It was up to them to decide and then create their management plan. They then all came together last Friday for the final event where they would compete against each other by presenting their designs the best way they knew how. We considered creativity and enthusiasm in our scoring and I was blown away by what people brought forth! There were skits, poems, speeches, props and modeling! Not to mention the impressive design ideas being presented. They all did an amazing job spreading education and awareness about waste issues and came up with some interesting ways to manage it better.

I worked with the Ministry of Health to come up with an awards system that includes providing entire villages with trash bins, workshops on how to set up a composting system, tools to compost, hosting village clean ups, and providing supplies for the clean ups. All in all it was a great day!

A few of many spectators and supporters who came to cheer on their village team!






One village getting ready to perform a skit involving the harmful effects of chemical waste from spraying farms.




Judges deliberating
The first place team and their many creative uses for plastic trash!
Bags made from old potato sacks, rugs from scrap cloth, and decorative flowers from soda cans and chip bags - all for the waste management competition


A bit of the local Indian culture that I've had the pleasure of experiencing. The first few photos were from the second night of a neighbor's wedding. After that I put in some pictures of celebrating Diwali.

Indian men doing a crazy dance performance at a neighbor's wedding
Some excellent and definitely interesting music being played at ear splitting volume. The Indian woman next to me kept cracking up at the faces the singer was making!


The interluding drumming/singing band

The alter for the wedding - this is the second night at the groom's family's residence; the first night was at his fiance's family's house and the third night is the actual wedding ceremony
Mancheeka, my neighbor's daughter, giving me a bowl of sweets on Diwali.
The shrine my Hindu neighbors set up to praise the gods during Diwali - the festival of lights
On Diwali, everyone is constantly lighting off fireworks for hours into the night in celebration. Young children are running around with mortars; entire families are battling with roman candles; it's really chaotic and exceptionally loud. Meanwhile, everyone walks around to each others' houses and partake in sharing sweets. At some point our power went out and all you could see were candles and fireworks.
At one house we stopped at, these women had spent hours dying rice different colors and arranging these designs.

Well, now it's very late at night and it seems that I've contracted the flu...so I can go home sick. Again. The adventure story might have to wait until I return...