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, 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 naïve 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. :)

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