Bula vinaka, or a very warm hello, to all my family and friends back in the states!! I am safe and very happy here in Fiji! The last few days have consisted of Pre-Service training at the Sky Lodge outside of the city of Nadi. Upon arrival to the airport we were greeted by current volunteers and coconut water fresh from the coconut! I have been in daily training at my “hotel” since. I have poor time perception at the moment, given the time difference and the intensity of my life, but I believe we’ve been here three days. So far I am absolutely loving the Peace Corps. My group is very friendly, down-to-earth, and excited about the work that we are doing. Our Country Director, Eddie, is also totally awesome! He was a PCV (peace corps volunteer) himself here in Fiji, I believe in the 60s, along with his wife Debbie. They are warm, welcoming, and laid back… kind of a like a new set of grandparents here in Fiji. Eddie has so much energy and the love that he has for Fiji and it’s people radiates from him. He has described our work as Community Health workers as having a lot to do with making connections and integrating in our community… sounds good to me 🙂 Our program recently transitioned to a partnership between the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Ministry of Education (MOE), so what we will be doing is some really grassroots development work. I feel so grateful to have landed in such a cool program in a beautiful place!
It seems that we will have a lot of freedom to make our work here what we/our village wants. Just a year ago that would have scared the life out of me. I would never have had the confidence to take on such a big job with such little guidance. I’m happy to say that I’ve spent the time since graduating from college learning a lot about what I am interested in, what I’m good at, and what makes me excited. Most importantly, I feel capable of taking on whatever the Peace Corps throws at me. If I’m well intentioned and dedicated, then I’ll be doing my personal best, which is all I can do 🙂
Pre-service training has been a bit intense, but in the most positive, fun way possible. I have met my country staff, who are all so appreciative of us and excited that we are here. We’ve started to learn some vocabulary, and it has been quite amusing. There is apparently something called the “Fijian no”, which basically means that you always say yes, even if you really mean no. No is technically “sega” (pronounced sayn-gah). When a fellow volunteer asked if it was okay to say no to being given more food (since this is a big part of the Fijian culture), our training coordinator Filipe said, “Yes of course, vinaka!” I found this pretty hilarious, since vinaka pretty much means everything from thank you, to good, to okay… but definitely not no! Long story short, Fijians seem to be very polite, warm people.
So far my favorite moment here has been the talent show last night. We made groups of five or six and all created a short piece exemplifying what we’ve learned so far about Fijian culture. Every single volunteer got totally into it, and there was a lot of singing and laughing. My entire group seems to have a really awesome sense of humor and are really supportive of one another. My group played “One Day” by Matisyahu… I played my ukulele! I now know six chords and quite a few songs. I’m proud of myself for throwing myself into playing and singing in front of everyone. I’m getting used to this way of being! We changed the chorus of the song to saying one day in Fijian, Tongan and then English. I will show you all when I get home- I swear it’s even better than the original. Our performance brought our country director’s wife, Debbie to tears, and Eddie said he felt transported back to the 60s. I’m happy with my first performance, if I do say so myself 😉
I have participated in several kava ceremonies, which are a big part of Fijian culture. Kava is a root which is pounded and soaked in water and looks like watery mud… sounds delicious, I know. Kava is customarily consumed during celebrations, as a sort of community building and story sharing time. Today it is more and more being consumed as a leisure drink as well, and men often drink kava after work to relax and talk with one another. Our ceremonies here have been a really intimate, comforting time of sharing and bonding. Our country staff have shared stories and laughs with us, and this has been one of the first parts of our integration into our PC Fiji family. One of the funniest moments so far was when I was offered a third (maybe fourth?) bilo of kava by one of the program coordinators. I politely declined, “vinaka”. To this he responded, “okay, low tide”, as he passed me a half full coconut shell of this mouth-numbing, relaxation inducing drink. I’m going to have to get used to this Fijian yes business.
I am currently waiting for buses to pick our group up for transportation to our host villages. We will be here for training for the next 8 weeks. My new family will consist of a mother, father, grandfather and THREE little brothers! I think it’s really awesome that I now have three brothers in Fiji in addition to my three sisters at home. The symmetry is pretty sweet. Apparently brothers are super protective in Fijian culture, so it will be nice to have so many people looking after me. My brothers are Jack, Saimoni and Emosi, ages 16, 9 and 5. I bet they’ll want to play on my slack line with me! My parents names are Vilikesa and Ana. One small concern of mine was not being able to say my host moms name, so I’m happy it’s simple. I’m surprisingly not nervous to stay with my host family, despite the language barrier. At least one member of my family should be proficient in english, but this will be a really awesome opportunity to learn Fijian! Eddie said that our families are preparing for our arrival as if they are bringing home a child of their own. This already makes me feel loved and welcomed.
Our buses are about 10 minutes away, so I am off. If you don’t hear from me for several weeks, sega na lega (no worries! pronounced sayn-gah na layn-gah). I most likely won’t have access to internet, but I will be in a village with 5 other volunteers, in intense daily language, cultural and technical training. No news is good news! I will post as soon as I can.
If you’d like to write, my address is:
Carissa Wills-DeMello, PCT
Private Mail Bag
Keep me in your thoughts and prayers, you’re all in mine. Peace and love- moce (bye)!