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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

8 Months in 8 minutes! (well, maybe 88 minutes)

To my three potential blog followers:

Please forgive my eight month foray into the land of unmotivatedness and for not posting any news about my many adventures whilst living under a rock.

Effective immediately, I am initiating a blogging do-over (or maybe just a recharge?) and vow to at least attempt more earnestly to update my blog with interesting pictures and stories. So, until I can come up with an interesting story, here's a slew of pictures from the past eight months that are not necessarily in any particular order and my be slightly shoddy due to the fact that my camera was stolen sometime around mid-April. And, yes, you should give me credit for taking pictures without a camera.

But first, a quick update: I have completed my two year service with the Peace Corps and have since moved out of my village. However, I applied for a third year extension in town and it was granted! So, now I'll be the same old integrated environmental resource management volunteer, ahem, that I always was but now working at the provincial office in town I'll be able to conduct workshops and trainings on the good stuff in communities all throughout our province!

Found this juvenile reef shark caught in someone's longline.
Just like it sounds - a longline is a length of fishing line with hooks spaced at various intervals that the fisherman puts out for a few hours or overnight and then returns later to collect what is caught; they are prone to bycatch, especially sharks and sea turtles. There are no established rules in Fiji regarding the use of longlines (with exception to adhering to lawful hook sizes) but sadly this was the third time I came across a dead shark. The first time was with a large female reef shark that was pregnant with 12 pups - all of which died. Awareness about this sort of thing is all part of the job but the full message doesn't always make it across.

Working with some of my villagers to create a miniature sea cucumber raising pen.
Eventually, with assistance from the Ministry of Fisheries, we will create 4 pens that are approximately 100 m2 and will each house approximately 1,000 sandfish sea cucumbers. The goals behind this are:
  • A) to stop harvesting these highly lucrative (in the Asian markets) sea creatures from the deteriorating reef and thus help the wild populations and the reef recover; 
  • B) to act as a sustainable income generator - after two years, the villagers will be able to harvest these sea cukes instead and will be able to raise upwards of $50,000 in the process; and 
  • C) to give added motivation for the locals to continue to respect their tabu area, as these pens will be situated inside and are an investment.
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My counterpart and I worked together on creating an official sign that would declare the boundary of our permanent marine protected area. We didn't have any colorful paint at the time except a primer that made things look pink when applied so... (I edited out our village name)

'Our' Village Marine Protected Area - Fishing and Anchoring are Forbidden

My counterpart jumping off the beacon marking the southeast corner or our tabu area. The beacon marks the channel that leads into a nearby harbor. Meanwhile, I'm speeding around in the boat threatening to ride over to Taveuni (in the distance).
We thought the orange cone would make it a bit more noticeable in an important sort of way to any yachts or fishing vessels that might be anchoring in the neighboring harbor.

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Within the past few months, my village community became active in the provincial sports league. The guys formed a rugby team that they train with every day and then on Saturdays travel to different spots around the province to play against other villages. I was having fun watching and rooting our team on until the women decided they were going to start up a netball team for competing as well. They asked me to join, which I was stoked to do (it's not like I have much opportunity for displaying athletic ability whilst wearing my ankle length skirt and hand washing laundry like a good lady of the village). Then I realized I don't know how to play netball. Then they made me the starting center. K...

The village rugby team playing in a weekend tourny up the coast.
Playing in a netball tourny! If you squint you can see me kind of in the middle in the back wearing black - I'm the one with white skin.
Netball turned out to be a ton of fun! It's kind of a crossover between basketball and ultimate frisbee. If you have the ball you can't move with it but have to pass it on and the hoop has no backboard so there's a lot of swishing involved. Luckily, my job was not to shoot but rather to run up and down the field trying to do everything else. We didn't win many tournaments but I had tons of fun looking foolish anyway. And most tourneys ended with a grog drinking dance party!

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This last semester that I had with the kids I decided to take on a new topic - world geography. Most kids in Fiji have a difficult time visualizing the other islands within their own country let alone have any perspective on where America is in relation to Europe. The word for a white person is kaivulagi, which means native of a strange land but is translated as European. It doesn't matter where you are actually from; if you're white, you're a European.

So, I decided to become part of the World Map Mural club within Peace Corps and initiate said project with my class 7 and 8 students at our primary school.

The origin of the world map project in Peace Corps:
http://www.peacecorps.gov/resources/media/medstories/1536/
  

The beginning. This is the concrete wall of the primary school's outdoor bathroom. My counterpart and I measured out a 2:1 rectangle, taped it off and painted the interior with the bluest paint we could find. I know... it looks grey, but you work with what you got!

Once the area was prepped, I laid out a giant grid that the students then used to carry out task number 1: drawing the map.


Once the map was completely drawn, we began phase 2: painting! Hands down the best part of this whole thing. The kids really got into. We painted one color each day - that way we didn't risk two neighboring countries blending their colors.
Slowly but surely the colors began to show...it almost looks like a real map!
This is more or less the completed map! We still want to put the Fiji flag in the upper left hand corner and fill in the Peace Corps symbol in the upper right.
I was super proud of the kids and the work they completed and the enthusiasm they had for the project. I lied about the best part being painting it - the best part was having all manner of students come up to the map and quiz each other on geography and get excited and surprised when they saw how far away certain countries are from each other or how big they are. It was perhaps one of the most satisfying things I've been able to do while serving here. Seeing them so excited about this thing that they could use and learn from was amazing!

The last day we had a jeopardy party! Three teams - 2  boy teams and 1 girl team. I'll give you one guess which team won.
Working on an all play question - so it wasn't exactly like jeopardy...
Our project group!


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During my last month in the village we did our last tomitomi (picking up trash) day with the village kids. So, being that it was the last one everyone and their mother came out to participate. Seriously, kids were coming out of bushes and sliding down coconut trees. Eventually, we had somewhere close to 35 kids marching along our village road in a rambunctious parade. Shockingly, they still managed to pick up trash and not just run around in a wild frenzy.

Two of the kids working together to put the right trash in the right bag.
Little Viwa! Always wants to carry the trash bag.

Group shot! I think half of the group was off running amok.

Here's most of them just dying to break down my porch and swarm into my house to get their toys! That was a challenge... but luckily I had some friends come to my aid - you know the kind that can actually communicate in Fijian.


Me and my little namesake! Kirisitina (Christine turned Fijian - just throw a vowel between every constant and one at the end)

                                                                              ~~~

So before I could depart from my village, the place that I called home for two years, we had to partake in all manner of ceremony and partying to "properly send me off." The first part involved me presenting my itatau, which is typically a gift of a bundle of grog, to my chief and community. I speak about my time with them, how they've made me a member of their families, about the work we've done together, about my hopes for their future, and an apology for any of my own misdoings during my stay - that's the basic recipe for the goodbye speech. The chief will accept this and speak in turn. Then to seal the deal, of course we partake in a bit of the grog I presented.


The grog that I presented at my going away ceremony for the village.
I repeat this process with any number of close friends and families that deserve a special parting as well as with the school. Often they will do something in turn such as preparing food, speeches, and gifts.

The going away ceremony performed for me by the school. I presented grog and gave a speech and they returned the speech and prepared dinner.

Master Vavi - he was my counterpart for our coral farming project last year.
 My final day in the village was spent at a giant party with all the members of my community present. They presented me with kuta mats, prepared a feast of a dinner, and even agreed to lift the ban on dancing so we could make it a real party! I gave another speech; they gave more speeches. Much grog was drank and food eaten. I had blisters on my feet the next morning from dancing so much.


The high table for my going away party in the village! Only the chief and the elders sit up here. I was included because I was the guest of honor.

That's me on the right and my chief on the far left. The village presented me with three hand woven kuta mats (kuta is that rare swamp grass that gross some places in Fiji, and is considered more valuable than other types of mat - our village is known for it).

The women and children at my party, just hanging out and waiting for the party to begin!

And then came grog. Closely followed by dancing! :D
The next day was my last in the village and was very brief. Many tears were shed - though in Fiji it is tradition to force cry at a supposedly sad event because they say it makes it pass easier and won't invoke bad spirits. So I'm not sure whether my friends were actually tearful to see me go and couldn't help but cry or whether they were turning on the water works so no bad spirits would come for them and their seemingly hardened hearts. Either way it didn't matter much to me as I surprised even myself by bursting into tears as everyone came up to hug me and wish me on my way. My hired ride showed up and we packed up all my belongings into his pickup and off I went to my next job and adventure in town!

Stay tuned - more to come!

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