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, November 16, 2011

The New Village

Back to the village. I had a very tearful goodbye to my old village and felt immensely sad as I drove away in the car, quite possibly never to see these people again. The transition was a bit rough, with a few popped tires and at least one missed ferry. But I did make it to the new site and only a few hours later than intended!

I have been adjusting as best as I can and find that I really like it here. The people are great and since their village is much smaller than my first, I already know most of them fairly well. The house is nice, with an indoor bathroom this time and an army of ants. The best part of the house in landscaping with lots of colorful flowers, passionfruit and papaya trees, and a beautifully walled garden. The village is powered with solar panels - each house has one. This is the result of a project with habitat for humanity several years back. The only downside is that there are no outlets, so the solar only provides for lighting, which to be honest with you I would most happily do without if it meant I could charge my phone or laptop.

The beach and view of the ocean is breathtaking beautiful. The pictures I have here unfortunately were taken on a rainy day so the colors aren't so apparent but just imagine waters of the most intense turquoise, azure, and cobalt blue with little sandstone islands scattered here and there and mountainous islands in the distance.

My inherited cat named Melanie. I'm not a huge cat person but I like having her around; she's affectionate and a good friend. <3

My bed. All the walls in the house are pink.

New kitchen area. Filled with ants. No matter how many meausres I take against them...

The outside. That's my I did make the windchimes you see hanging though!
Imagine how you would feel if you turned the tp around and got this instead. It's not as big as Larry but I think that location counts for a lot. Still just picture how big that is... imagine the face you would make.

A bit of the village itself, which is very very small. Maybe only 25 houses total and set in a cul-de-sac formation. My house is situated right at the base of the lollipop and top of the stick if you can picture that.

Tomitomi (picking up trash) with the village children. I give them fake coins for helping and then after a certain number of trips they get to buy simple toys from me (like stickers, balls, glowsticks, pencils, etc). This is a project that the previous volunteer started and I'm just continuing. This and group teeth brushing with the kids every morning before school. 

**If anyone is interested in donating some CHEAP toys I would be happy to chat with you! It would be much appreicated :)**

Ocean view from the edge of the village. We're up on a little hill.

The best volleyball court I've played on since coming here. I have also had the most fun playing the game in this village. People are still really good and serious about the rules but everyone seems to just have more fun, especially when it is raining and we run down to jump in the warm ocean waters when our team isn't playing.

The beach looking northwest towards an elbow in Vanua Levu.

Straight out to the southweest. You can't see it well on this day but on clear days you can see the large island of Taveuni in the distance spanning much of the horizon. 

The beach looking right to the southeast.

Looking back towards the village beach from a popular swimming lagoon.

That's all for now! Looking forward to being in touch as I being project work!

The Centipede

Have you ever seen the movie James and the Giant Peach? It’s a great story about a kid flying to NYC on a giant peach with giant insects as companions. One of them is a giant centipede, named, cleverly enough, Centipede. He is a rascally character but likeable just the same and is a good guy. This centipede is nothing like that centipede. Except maybe size-wise.

So this one night, I was sleeping contentedly underneath my mosquito net when I rather unexpectedly awoke. Why I woke up, I’m not sure. It doesn’t really matter; what does matter is that after waking up I heard some pitter-patter on the floor. Great. Another mouse. Deciding that I had to pee anyway, I got up with the intent of chasing the mouse off on my way to the bathroom. I retrieved my nearest whacking object (which happened to be a badminton racquet) and my shoddy flashlight (shoddy only because the battery was dying and was only dimly working in a flickering B-Horror-Movie kind of way) and proceeded to investigate.

I quickly scanned the area looking for signs of movement and caught some whipping around the doorframe (the door frame that is only about 3 feet from my bed where I was standing and doesn’t actually have a door but a curtain). I stalked closer and gave the curtain a quick jab in hopes of flushing the mouse out. This plan made perfect sense to me at one in the morning and, as it turned out, I did manage to ummm…flush it out. From the outer rim of my flashlight’s illumination, this long black segmented body with far too many moving parts emerged from the shadows of the bottom corner of the curtain; it rapidly ascended the fabric until it came to my eye level, roughly six inches in front of me, where it stopped and hung motionless. Definitely not a mouse. In the amount of time that it took for me to realize this I also managed to let out a mangle yelp, hurl myself backward, fling the racquet into the window, and say, “I’m gonna die.”

As I stood there, dumbfounded by the absurdity of my situation, the centipede took the opportunity to migrate to the other side of the curtain. Its movement spurred me into action. Okay, I have to kill it. Right. Get the cane knife. I swept into the next room through the other centipede-free doorway and scanned the area for my hand-held lawn mower, at which point I swore loudly because I remembered that I had in fact left it in the shed near my garden outside the village. I reevaluated - what else could I use? Kitchen knives?…gross. The racquet?...too blunt, probably wouldn’t kill it. A sneaker? … my feet aren’t even remotely that big. What I ended up deciding was that I definitely had to kill it but I didn’t want to attempt to whack it off only to muddle the job and have it escape wounded and keen on revenge, which it would exact upon me the next time I snuggled under my bed sheets and discovered that I wasn’t alone…And I wasn’t confident in any of my remaining household objects to do the job, especially since the first attack would be made whilst the creature was on the curtain, not a very good whacking surface.

Deciding then that there was nothing else for it, I threw open my front door and marched across the grass to my neighbor’s house all of twenty feet away, swallowed whatever pride I was harboring, and gently started rapping on the door – “Ta Te…Ta Te…Nei Nai wake up; it’s Tina.” Within seconds, after some brief commotion inside, the door was torn open to show both Ta Te and Nei Nai standing there looking like they expected to see me on fire with rabid dogs dangling from my appendages. And suddenly I felt like I was four and needed my daddy to kill a spider in my bedroom. After a short and mutually startled pause, I bah-ed out some sheepish statement about there being a big centipede in my house and not having a cane knife. When they just continued to stare I repeated my situation with a little more gusto deciding that I still really did want him to come over and kill it for me, no matter how ridiculous the whole thing was.

Once I finally managed to convey the situation to them, the three of us went back to my house. Ta Te asked me where it was and I pointed to the spot on the curtain where it most assuredly had not moved from. His first remark was, “Just use your sa-sa.” The sa-sa is a Fijian made broom derived from the stems of coconut tree leaves. Oh, right, how silly of me to not think of killing the giant centipede of death with my sa-sa broom. However, imagining that there was no doubt some Fijian trick to killing centipedes with your sa-sa that was as of yet unknown to me, I began searching for it. Ta Te, however, chose not to wait; he found some piece of scrap wood (that I think may have been broken off of one of my support beams) and began hacking madly in the centipede’s general direction. I was terrified that he was missing or worse yet had managed to fling the thing onto my bed in the next room. But to my delight it chose to escape towards the doorframe and he was able to pin it good against the wood. A few more whacks and it was severed in half. Ta Te putted the remains out the open front door with the bit of wood, handed it over to me, said, “Set?” And before I could really force any noise to come out of my mouth he and Nei Nai went back to bed.

By the time I went outside the next morning to use the bathroom, the whole village knew. I know because from that moment on throughout the rest of the day people would stop me, greet me, and then say, “So a centipede huh?”

Now, when I shared this story with my parents the first thing my dad asks is, “Well, did you get a picture of it??” Well, unfortunately, for some reason I was a bit distracted at the time to think of the photo op. BUT as luck would have it, I got another rather large (but considerably smaller than the first) centipede to take up residence on my doorway curtain within two weeks of the first. I was informed that this was because they were rebuilding the house next door and by upending the foundation all the centipedes had to find a new home. Apparently, my curtain was prime real-estate. This time, I did think of taking a picture before I hacked it using that same slab of wood. So, for your viewing pleasure:

So I measured that - it's about 8 inches long. Imagine the first one being 2-3 inches longer and maybe a little less than twice as wide...

Beautiful Bloody Beaches

My first full day back to the old village (this was all before the move too) from phase two of training was a Sunday. I was sitting in church after the service had ended and was talking with the other villagers as is custom when these two white people came over. I got excited and in my head exclaimed, “Wow! Look! White people! Why are there white people in the village?” Not that I ever forget the pasty shade of my own skin but it is rather unusual to see any other white people, except for the occasional tourist in town. They were visiting from Germany and were staying with Bobo, that awesome villager who owns a small B and B resort. Turned out they were all going snorkeling out at Naigani Island (Mystery Island) the next day and were inviting me to come!

We left mid morning in Bobo’s fiberglass boat. Me donning my always fashionable PFD (as Peace Corps requires), Bobo steering, the young lady holding his fishing line as it trailed behind us in the water, and the young man sitting way up on the bow to make sure we didn’t flip over backwards from zooming about at breakneck speeds (of about 10mph…Bobo really wanted the fish to notice his lure). Took about 30 mins to get across and we made a quick stop to check out the one resort on the little island, which is super cheap and nestled on some beautiful little white beaches. After, we rode around to the other side of the island, anchored in open water and hopped in. Turns out only the boat was on open water and when I rolled backwards into the water it was only a few feet above the reef, a space that was even more limited because a white tipped reef shark was already occupying the area. Woops. Right, I should’ve looked before backing into the sea but I was excited. Freaked him right out though!
The beach and corals on Naigani.

Bobo pulling the boat in.
Bobo proceeded to catch our lunch with his makeshift spear gun - basically just a metal rod with a pointed tip that you shoot with some elastic hosing. He almost nabbed a 3 foot long Spanish mackerel but sadly missed and we ended up having an assortment of reef fish (of the parrot and surgeon varieties and a couple others) instead. They tasted quite good but it was still unnerving to think about what I was eating and where I used to work…

Some surgeons (or maybe pacific tangs?) and a parrotfish. Delectable.

I tried my hand at shooting things underwater and was less than shocked to see that all I managed to stick was the sand on the bottom. One thing to keep in mind, I thought as I was desperately swimming deeper and deeper trying to get the rod, is to make sure you don’t send your spear (or rather Bobo’s spear) zooming off into some deep ocean trench where it is irretrievable. For me deep ocean trench is maybe thirty feet…

The rest of the day passed peacefully enough and on the way back I got to hold the line to try and catch some fish en route. Well we caught something monstrous as all of a sudden I felt myself being yanked backward out of the boat. But I caught myself on the bench seat and the line (it was a 100 lbs line!) snapped. Bobo said he needed a new one anyway but all I was thinking about was what sense did it make to have me be the one holding the line? Obviously if anything bit in open water it would be stronger than me on the other end just casually sitting on the wooden bench of the boat. Then I wondered if maybe Bobo had intended for me to be launched out of the rear of the boat for his own Fijian amusement…


When I got back to the house I immediately went over to my water filter on the kitchen counter for a drink when I noticed something low down on the wall. First, I should say that while I was gone, my na took care of the place - airing it out now and then and she even changed the curtains! Apparently, she also made it her mission to rid me of my rodent infestation. While I was crouched down, closely examining this interesting mark on the wall and wondering if it had been there before I left, my Na walked in and proudly told me that she had been successful on one account of her pest raid and managed to get rid of the giant rat that had only recently taken up residence. As I stood up and turned to greet her I thought yay! No more rat! I noticed that she too was looking at the wall and as I turned around once more it dawned on me just what the mark was…As it turns out she did kill the rat… by squishing it between a board and my wall until its head exploded…I wish I was kidding …

I'm not sure this needs a caption...

And no, you don’t want to see what else was behind that board. I would have cleaned it up, but I hadn’t had running water in my house for most of that past week since the village men were fixing the damn and putting in some new tanks. I had been taking my baths in the river.

But since I don’t live in that house anymore I don’t really mind it! I imagine that one day, if I ever manage to get back and visit, you know like twenty years from now, that blood stain will still be there…

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Life in the Village

Like Dante emerging from the depths of Hell, I too have returned from my harrowing journey to... THE FRIENDLY NORTH! (that's the nickname for Vanua Levu Island). Though, while poor Dante only managed to elevate himself into the lowest level of Purgatory, I had slightly higher hopes in mind for my new site change and, indeed, I think I may be fairing better than our Divine Comedian ever did (...except perhaps when he was hanging out with some angels up in Heaven).

...Feel free to slap me at any time if you are within arms length...

In all seriousness, I have now spent just over one week in my new village and am feeling quite happy all things considered. BUT before I go and share with you all the things I have been doing whilst gallivanting around the country, I would like to post some older stories that I had been working on pre-apocalyptic-upheaval. So, here they are, I edited some but then just got lazy and distracted so half of them (like the one about the garden) will be in present if that is where I am presently living...but don't be fooled...because I'm there that is... All these stories are from my old Ovalauan village but with universal (the Fijian universe) application.

I thought it would be nice to highlight a few things that are closer to home: some things that I see more or less every day, some things that I definitely don’t, but all in all very much representative of life in a Fijian village.

Life in village is always busy but never rushed. There is always time for a cegu mada (rest) and always time for tea, which they drink almost as much as they drink grog (or kava). Most days will see the women cleaning, cooking, or fishing and then men working in the plantations. But often enough there are variable days where groups meet, solis (fundraisers) are conducted, and projects worked on.

I have the delightful privilege of immediately being welcome at or involved in any of these events, which is simultaneously awesome and challenging. I’m here to be involved and to facilitate my village to work on projects sustainably but it’s hard when there are so many things to do and places to be. For them, resting comes naturally, for me, I feel like I have to schedule it in…Tea at 8 am, meet with the women’s group, have a beach cleanup, rest at 10 am, at 11 go to the fish ponds to take pictures, 12 pm is lunch…etc. I would just as soon skip the 5 teas/breaks in a day but that’s not the way of life here and it baffles my counterparts and I think it sometimes may even irritate them a little – why is the crazy white girl not resting with us? Too busy to spend time with us? Isa…

The first harvesting of the village's fish ponds. Most of the village got involved and muddy and wet. It was great. Everyone was working together and joking and laughing and no one was uncertain about getting involved, especially when the frog throwing fight broke out. The ministry came and assisted the village with the weighing and sales.

The Women's Group dying some fabric; it's called Kesakesa and the women do it partly as a fundraising activity where people pay a little money to the group and give their bed sheets, pillow cases, curtains, etc. to be dyed.

One of the completed bed sheets.
There is also the occasional formal event such as when a man is requesting permission to marry a woman. In this particular case, the man doing the requesting lives in a village that is in the interior of Ovalau. He came to our village with a congregation of his family, friends, and village representatives to officially make the marital request. The family, friends, and reps from our village met with them and held the ceremony. The man’s family presented the woman’s family with a tabua or whale’s tooth, which is economically rare, culturally valuable, and constitutes a very old tradition. It was all very interesting but difficult to understand because so many people kept speaking and the tabua was being passed around frequently. The culmination of the ceremony was a long night of celebrating and drinking grog. 

This is the tabua (or I suppose two of them) that were being presented at the wedding request ceremony. Oh and I'm told they are from sperm whales.
Cheif of the man's village presenting the tabua.
Drinking grog for a soli (fundraiser to pay the village nurse).
So in my free time when all of these exciting things are not happening or when I’m just not involved I should say I spend my time doing any number of things. One of which is gardening! I was so very excited to start my garden here in Fiji and to know that I would be able to get fresh produce from my backyard even if there was none in town. Oh how young and na├»ve I was all those months ago. Back in the states, the extent to my gardening was when I was a little girl and eating the dirt that my mom was digging up whilst planting things in our backyard (when I was a little older, I upgraded to munching on chives…).

Therefore, regardless of my high level of gung-ho-ness and my handy little gardening in Fiji guide (standard peace corps issue) I am woefully unskilled at making much more than grass come out of the ground. Being gone for three weeks (at phase two of training) didn’t help all that much. I came back to find a small jungle had decided to grow in lieu of any edible vegetation.

There are two exceptions to this:
1)      My squash is growing out of control and has more or less blanketed three of the five beds I had set as my garden area, although there are no squash yet
2)      The bean seeds that I planted grew! And they sprouted bean pods! And I ate them!

The squash plant of doom.

Long bean and french bean. :D
I was also starting some plants in starter pots. These included tomatoes, chives, capsicum, and eggplant (which I transplanted a while back only to discover the next morning that all I had succeeded in doing was giving the mud crabs a delicious dinner). As I have previously tried to make clear, I’m not a good gardener (Yet! There’s always hope!). Apparently, what I thought were chives and capsicum growing spectacularly in their pots were actually neither of those. A fact that I discovered after carefully and lovingly transplanting them into my beds and only upon hearing my family laughingly ask me why I was putting so much effort into growing grass…

To be fair it didn’t look like regular grass; it was more weird-weed like plant than grass that was cunningly similar in appearance to a more desirable plant. But since I have no idea what capsicum leaves actually look like, I was easily fooled. There’s no excuse of the chives though, being that I used to eat so much of them.

My carefully grown grass...sorry for whatever reason it won't upload the properly rotated picture. Hopefully, you can figure it out.
....More stories to come tomorrow when I have access to them. Until then, I hope you have been amused. :)