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

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Giant Spiders and Scraping Coconuts

NOTE: I was having difficulties posting my pictures onto this post so I'm going to try just putting pictures up on a separate post.      
Less than one month ago I set out on this journey and (regardless of what I said or thought) I was completely unaware of what would actually be waiting for me in the near future. Naturally, I was steeling myself for the worst even if I was expecting better. It’s easy to talk about what life might be like on the other side of such a drastic change, but it’s much harder to actually make that leap and just up and leave; to skip on to the next reality over, putting the life you know and love quite literally on pause, and to dip your toes into the oceans of the unknown.    
Well, now that the overly dramatic intro paragraph has wrapped up nicely, I am happy to report that those unknown oceans have plunked me down into a delightful rural village on Viti Levu and that I’m settling in quite nicely. I have been staying here with my host family for just over two weeks now and have five weeks to go before training ends and I get my two year site assignment. I have a mom (I call her Na) and one brother (who is really a cousin that’s living in the house until his school term starts again—he is getting his bachelor’s in Information Systems). It is just the three of us but I am thoroughly enjoying it! Both of them are eager to help me learn more about the culture and the language, giving me constant opportunity to converse in Fijian. They are going out of their way to teach me some key cultural nuances, or to take me on what I usually find to be an exciting adventure but what they tend to consider daily chores (like fishing, foraging, or bushwhacking). I wonder sometimes if they think I’m crazy for being excited about grating cassava or husking a coconut, but they seem to mostly be excited that I’m excited.    
I’ve been having a grand old time showing people pictures of snow and describing things like broomball, shoveling, and snowball fights. My brother thinks it’s nothing short of amazing that I used to be a clown (and have pictures to prove it), and is just as amused at my ability to mimic the sound of a Snapple bottle opening. There tends to be a lot of laughter going on around here.   
Children call my name wherever I go within the village. They always want to play games or hold my hand. This is also the case with the two other female trainees that are staying here but is (from what I’ve seen) not at all true for the guys.     
I am in training six days a week from 8:00 AM to roughly 5:00 PM (with a good 2-3 hours of break in there somewhere). Most days are fully spent in language class, which is conducted by our language coordinator (a native Fijian working for the Peace Corps that also stays in the village with us) and takes place in the village meeting hall. One day a week we visit another village and the trainees there for a day of cultural exchange and one day a week we all come together in the closest town/city for our technical training (this day is also the only time I get internet). Sadly, much of my free time is spent doing technical training homework or studying language for a proficiency interview rather than experiencing culture within my village.  
So I’m including a lot of pictures in hopes of conveying what it is like here and how much I am enjoying myself. It has not, however, been all fun and games. Within 10 days of being here I managed to get myself a nice little staph infection, which I am still fighting off. I am riddled with mosquito bites (to be expected of course) as well as bed bug bites (it’s not fair that my mattress get’s to lie in the sun but I can’t) and a typical cut or two. My hips and lower back have yet to adjust to the cultural norm of sitting on the floor (on woven mats) generally everywhere – school, meals, family time, meetings, etc. I am lucky in that there is furniture at my Na’s house so I can get enough of a reprieve to get by. I’ve seen spiders the size of my fist and cockroaches that are even larger but worse than both is contending with drunken men in town while I am trying to socialize with fellow trainees. Nothing remotely bad has happened yet on that front but it has been enough to keep me constantly on guard.

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