Friday, March 12, 2010

they took all the trees and put them in a tree museum OR community development

For 20 months now, I have been selfishly coveting my fellow PCVs for their electricity. I have longed to fall asleep to that familiar hum of a refrigerator. However, now that my PC experience is nearing it's end, the development I've hoped for is finally happening. Electricity is finally coming to my district.

Unfortunately, my definition of development has changed. Is rural electrification actually development? Or is it just rural electrification? Is development only the westernizing of a nation? I once thought that giving aide (whether it be financial, advisory, medical supplies, food rations, etc) to other countries was a positive initiative. Now I'm not so sure.

As I sat around a grog bowl with my favorite talanoa-er, basking in the amber glow of our kerosene lamps, I thought out loud "these days are almost over." The times of sitting around in the near dark, listening to the crickets outside, peeking through the open doorway at the stars shining brightly in the clear night. When the electricity is finally turned on, the radios and televisions will play all night. People will be up until the wee hours washing clothes.

Even the bus ride is different. Instead of a blur of green, I see all the trees have been cut down (and left in unruly heaps) at the mercy of a chainsaw to prepare the way for the utility poles. Some trees housed entire ecosystems, that's how big they were and how long they'd been here. The view of the ocean is spotted with connecting wires which spoil the silhouetted coconut trees against the periwinkle sunrise.

With development comes change. Fijians now have vaccines for tetanus and birth control pills, but some have forgotten how to use their herbal medicines. Fijians now have institutionalized schooling and the teaching responsibilities have fallen from the traditional elders to the young, new teachers, possibly upsetting the role elders play in the lives of the youth. Fijians have electricity, but will soon stop pulling their food from the ground daily because refrigerators make it possible to buy cheese and cold soda from town. This change in lifestyle is happening. I want to throw myself in front of this bus and say "Stop! Not here! Not in my district! We live simply and we're happy." But the wheel has started turning and I cannot stop it just like I cannot stop a Fijian bus from barreling on toward it's destination, wherever that may be.

So what is development? Will electricity help the villagers remember their traditions? Will widening the road cure scabies or help prevent the spread of typhoid? Why do other countries think they know what's best for Fiji? And then give money to bring these plans into action? Why is development always defined so strictly?

I don't have any of these answers, but talking about it helps.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Proof that I am working :)

Disclaimer: This blog is divided into 4 sections because it's really long. For being such a short month, much has happened in February. I have divided it into 4 sections so you won't tire your eyes by reading it all at one time. For those of you who are truly devoted fans, grab a cup of coffee and saddle up.

I. Imagine that every year for school, instead of every student in the district going to his or her own doctor for a check-up, the doc comes to them. Crazy! The logistics would be a nightmare. Or so you think. But this is exactly what the doctors and nurses in Fiji do.

This year, another volunteer and myself decided to tag along to see how this feat could possibly be accomplished. We also went along to add what help we could.

In the 3 days I helped, 400+ students were weighed, measured, received and overall health inspection to check for eye or skin disease, etc, had an eye check up, and a dentist checked every mouth. Plus the older grades got a basic (and when I say basic, I mean basic) sex talk. Grades 1 and 8 also got immunizations. Mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) and tetanus for the scared, 6-year old cherubs and for the older kids, just another tetanus. Then if anyone needed a filling or a tooth pulled, they came back after lunch to face the evil portable drill and pliers. I'm probably scarred for life due to the wailing kids and their hysterically laughing parents at the pain of their children. My PCV buddy kept saying "oh my, oh my. Just brush your teeth" to all the panic-stricken children watching their peers undergo operations. Needless to say, we cut out early that day.

But not before we informed the older kids about such important life sills as asking for help, effective communication, self-confidence, and decision-making. We rocked it.

II. The English teacher at the secondary school asked me to be a guest speaker. "I get to read a poem, speak in english the entire time, and dress up? Yeah, I'm there!" We read a poem about a laborer, a construction worker who is forgotten after the road he is building is finished. Luckily I could really bring home the lessons because our road is being worked on right now. Talk about practical application!

We discussed important life themes like "working hard toward your goals," "doing your best even if no one notices," and "everyone is human, so treat everyone with respect." I got to wear a big blue jumpsuit with yellow flourescent tape across the chest, too. Those outfits are pretty comfy.

Then we had extra time so we went through the steps of good-decision making. We had some good laughs about my pretend boyfriend, Jale, and how spending too much time with him was ruining my life. Poor Jale! We all ragged on him, but we learned some important skills as well.

III. The goal was simple: stress the importance of exercise and prove that it could be fun. Who knew the electric slide could be such a good workout? Not me, but boy did I sweat when teaching the women and teenage girls of my village.

When the CD player kept saying "No Disc" when clearly there was a disc, we almost had to throw in the towel. That would've been a shame because I already had to spend 2 weeks advertising this and then talking 2 teens into walking in the rain to the next village to buy fuel for the generator and boombox. Luckily, our DJ was tenacious and she opened and closed that drawer until the CD player surrendered to playing, ugh, American music!

Then, in that low-ceilinged sauna they call a house, we got down and dirty. We blared SRV's 'Pride & Joy' while scootin our boots (aka bare feet) to the rhythms of his guitar. Next we tried som swing dancing. We were spinning and bouncing and dipping all around that sauna.

Not only did we have fun, but we learned something new together. Later that day, some of the women were out weeding together. "Amy! Amy! Look, we're training!" I beamed with pride while I watched her machete glistening in the sunlight.

IV. Small children are ruthless. What with their tiny hands and tiny hands. Underneath that lovable exterior of curious chocolate eyes and baby teeth is a stinker of a tot whose ultimate goal is to make this PCV's life miserable. At least that's how it feels when I'm trying to explain that the number one has a symbol that looks like a stick. Oh, is it my Fijian that isn't clear? Ah, it's probably my lack of language skills not your impish soul that is causing you to ignore me. I guess we're all doing our best here, huh?

So far though, the kindergarten (kindy) has been going well. We've had 4 days and we have 4 students (just a coincidence). We sang songs about frying fish and the days of the week, played with blocks and puzzles and trains, had storytime (which they love best) played frisbee, and sort of learned to write the number one.

Luckily my co-teacher is incredible. She also speaks fluent Fijian which is an asset to our partnership, and proves effective with Fijian children.

This year we only have 4 kids, but I shudder to think about them going to first grade without knowing their ABCs or how to write their names or how to hold a pencil (which is a problem we've encountered).

We're taking baby steps, but when we look back in 4 months at all the papers that say "11111111111" I think our baby steps will have transformed into on big giant step.

If you made it all the way here, I congratulate you. Thanks for reading. And thank you for being interested in our lives half a world away.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Gettin certified.

PADI brags that I'll never forget the first time I breathe underwater. It's true.

I was scared shitless. I hated it. The water was hot. I felt a bit claustrophobic. I wanted to shoot to the surface, rip the regulator out of my mouth and say ok at least I tried. Then I took one....loooong...deeeeep....breath....And?? I loved it. This wave of calm came over me and I knew. I was meant to dive. By the end of my training, I could sink pretty quickly to the bottom, I had made up the "regulator" dance (the regulator is the name of the breathing aparatus and you're supposed to do a specific move to replace it in your mouth if it gets forced out somehow, it's a pretty awesome move), I could dive without my mask, and I could remove my BCD and weight belt underwater. All of these are basics, but I learned them all in 4 days and my dive instructor said I am a natural underwater. Apparently I'm smart to fall off the side of the boat as well.

On our first dive, I saw a stingray. Due to my excitement, I crushed the sand dollar I was saving to give to my dive buddy. As I watched the bits sink to the bottom, I smiled to myself. I am a fish. I can breath underwater. I'm close enough to touch this creature. I'm gliding through the water, swimming with clownfish, whitetip reef sharks, coral fans, soft and hard corals, beche-de-mer, angelfish and dogface puffers.

We swam through a rock tunnel at 18 meters below the surface of the water. I'm addicted. I need to dive. I want to get my Advanced Open Water. That means a night dive, a search and recovery dive, a wreck dive (this calls to the history buff in me), and another extreme dive.

Diving is one of the most incredible things I've ever done. Why did I wait so long?

Monday, January 18, 2010

fiji is full of surprises

Fiji is....ok. Who knew I'd feel ok when I got back in the village? Who knew that I would have fun? That life wouldn't seem so miserable after a super month of love and laughter with my family and friends.

I was flabbergasted at how easily I slipped right back into the lifestyle, the language, the food (minor hiccups there, but mostly ok), the skirts, the heat and humidity (which I have grown to prefer over the dry air of winters), the being alone thing. My perspective is different now. I am here to help. If there is no help wanted, I will just roam around this rock, taking my vacations days, enjoying my last bit of time with these wonderful people.

After a year and a half of work continuously falling through because of a slight tactical error or misjudgement, it was getting increasingly difficult for me to maintain a positive attitude. I no longer saw the distinction between the people and the work. The work would fail and therefore the people doing it were bad. I was heavy-hearted. Now I feel light-hearted. I gained perspective while I was home.

People are not work. At least Fijians should not be considered work. They should be my respite from a long day of environmental health inspections. I should be able to come home and laugh with people I care about. I realized that I have many people like that in America, but also in Fiji. Now that I had a chance to get some distance, I feel more relaxed in the village. Like I can just have fun instead of it being a punishment I must endure.

I come home in a few months and I don't want to remember my last months here as painful and tiresome. I'm doing my best to maintain my positivity and continue work with a sense of purpose and pride. When I come home for good, I can be happy with my experience, not only because of the work, but also because of the people.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


America. It's been about 4 weeks in the States and it has gone much too quickly. I managed to see and hug and laugh with so many people. I apologize for missing the folks I didn't get to see, but I assure you I'll be home very soon. Right when the weather gets so hot you think you can't stand anymore, I'll be flying home.

I consumed so many calories of deliciousness:
gourmet wings pizza from Greek's
2 christmas dinners and leftovers
cinnamon rolls
concannon's donuts
chicken empanadas with jalepeno-apricot sauce
Puerto's burritos
toasted chicken sammie from subway
blueberry french toast and blueberry cobbler
2 bags of jalepeno chips with sour cream dip
ben and jerry's chocolate chip cookie dough
domo roll
frisco melt from steak n shake
hazelnut latte's
chicken poppyseed and brownies

And that's just what I can remember off the top of my head.

Thanks to everyone who fed me, bought me a beer, or showed me love in another way, like driving 2 hours just to bum around ball state with me and check out the new buildings. I am so loved.

I have 6 more months, give or take, in Fiji. I know I will face many challenges, but it'll be rewarding as well. I'll be honest, after this trip, I don't want to go back. My loved ones are here, America is comfortable, I love freedoms (small and large), Fiji is difficult in myriad ways. Yet, I promised to do 2 years and when I'm done, I'm done.

Saturday I will say goodbye to my family and boyfriend at the airport. I am not looking forward to another goodbye, but I know the final reunion will be very, very soon. And very, very sweet.

Friday, December 18, 2009

the US of A

is incredible. Until you've left it and lived somewhere else, you may or may not fully appreciate it for what it is. I drove a car today to Target. I went to McDonald's, Best Buy, my bank, and I jammed out to pop music on the radio. Seems like a regular kind of day, but it was amazing to me. It's remarkable the things one forgets when she's overseas for 18 months. A few "adventures" of mine on my day out.

At Best Buy I went up to a moderately-attractive employee and made a fool or myself. My english is coming back slowly. The conversation went something like this:
Amy the lunatic: Hi, I'm looking's a thing that you can buy when you want music. Oh ok! It's like I have an ipod and I want to buy songs for it and i can buy this little card and then use it on the internets...?
The moderately attractive, kind, Best Buy employee: I know just the thing.

This shopping experience was rather embarrassing and I sighed in relief as I buckled my seat belt in my car aka safe place.

At McDonald's, I didn't know whether I got my own drink for a to go order or not. The McDonald's worker didn't give me a cup right away, so I asked "umm, do I get my own drink...?" and she handed it to me with a smile that I took as something to the effect of "how do you not know that? are you an american or what?" I'm sure she wasn't thinking that at all, but that's how I felt inside. Every American knows that at a fast food joint, if there's a drink counter, you get your own soda pop.

Then I went to Hobby Lobby and my sis' best bud was working and she clandestinely gave me 50% off my not-on-sale-at-all purchase and I thought, American's are risk takers and sometimes they don't follow the rules. I like that.

It's only day 3. I love this.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

shhhh shhhh shhh shhh shhh shhhh shhhh

That's the sound of 180 students, 8 teachers, and 1 Peace Corps Volunteer brushing their teeth together. It was a wonderful sound.

Colgate-Palmolive donated 100 toothbrushes and 100 tiny tubes of toothpaste to our school and the schools around Fiji for National Toothbrushing Day. (I especially liked the tiny tubes because I love things in miniature.) We did a little tooth brushing skit about all the food that can get stuck in your teeth if you don't brush properly or regularly. We also talked about how this can lead to cavities and your teeth falling out. Then you can't eat kuka anymore! (Kuka are little mud crabs that my area is known for.) It was only a 10 minute presentation, but it was really fun and quite effective.

At 12:29pm and 50 seconds, we did a countdown and then after 1! all the kids kind of looked around like they didn't know what to do. Then the head teacher said, "Brush!" into his loud speaker and everyone giggled and went to brushing. What a success!

I also had some visitors come! One of them was scared my rat might nibble her foot in the night, so the solution was to set up a tent inside my house to act as a mosquito net and rat-proof dwelling. One of the more ridiculous ideas that's happened on this island. After it was set up, we realized there was no way to get to the toilet in the middle of the night so down it came. They all slept like little tots in their sleeping bags on the floor. Luckily, no nibbles.