Home Sweet Koro

Nov. 17, 2014

The last few weeks have been quite busy to say the least!  It’s hard to remember everything worth sharing when my access to internet is so inconsistent, but I’ll do my best to be informative, entertaining and as concise as possible (which isn’t that concise) 🙂  This post will be more of an update on my life as of late for my family at home, rather than reflection and introspection (which I prefer… but I only have so much data right now!).

At the beginning of the month I said goodbye to my host family and host village of Vanuadina.  It was a bittersweet goodbye. I was excited to start the next chapter in my service, but sad to leave a community that I was finally feeling a part of.  After two short months I truly felt at home in Vanuadina, and the thought of leaving my home without any idea of where I’d be for the next two years was slightly intimidating.  Another new beginning in Fiji, only this time I would be doing so without the daily support of my host parents,  my fellow PCVs and PC staff.  Challenging as this will be, I signed up for the Peace Corps for challenges… so at the same time I’m feeling, “bring it on!”.

The night before we left Vanuadina the majority of the village stayed up with us in the community hall.  It is tradition (at least in our village) to have tea, food and music until the sun comes up on the morning of a villagers departure. We didn’t stay up until sunrise, but we did laugh, dance, sing until at least 3 am.  It was a really beautiful way to culminate our village stay.  It felt like one big family sleep over! The next morning the bus came to pick us up, and nearly the entire village was lined by the road, sleepy eyed and holding back tears.  I must have kissed fifty people goodbye that morning.  Our families carried our bags with us and bade us a tearful goodbye as we left for the next chapter. As the bus pulled away, I felt immense gratitude for the love and care of my host village.  The image of a colorful mass of familiar faces waving farewell is one that I hope I never forget.

After leaving our host villages we stayed for about a week in Suva.  The first day there we had a sevu sevu (welcome ceremony) for the new PC director of the the Inter-America Pacific region.  Ken is super down-to-earth and was excited to get an on the ground look at Peace Corps life on his first trip as IAP director.  It’s encouraging to know that an individual in such a high position is so dedicated to maintaining a genuine understanding of the PCV experience.  Welcome to the PC family, Ken!

Post-sevu sevu was site announcement.  Site announcemnts is the day that everyone waits for, or “judgement day” as the slideshow so aptly named it that day. We all hoped that our site would be a match that we were happy with. For me, that meant living in a village by the sea, in my own house, disconnected from Western influences, doing community health outreach with plenty of flexibility for side projects. I swear my karma bucks are about to run out, because I got exactly that… but I will describe my site a little more later J Suffice to say that it was an intense day for everyone, but I think the program staff did a wonderful job placing everyone in sites where they will be successful and happy!

The other big event in Suva was swearing-in. On November 6th our ceremony was held at the Forum Secretariat, in a big open air fale. Each village (PCTs and families) dressed in kalavata, or matching print sulujabas and bulu shirts.  It was really sweet to see everyone dressed up with their families!  Our country director, the Ambassador Reid and the head of the Fijian Ministry of Education were all speakers that day.We took our place on stage and took the same oath that the President of the United States take, and after that we were officially Peace Corps Volunteers!  I now even  have a snazzy official ID 😉 The whole experience truly felt quite surreal. I still don’t think it has set in that I’m a PCV. It feels like just yesterday that I was sitting in my cousin Breanna’s kitchen and decided I might as well at least apply… and now here I am.
Truly the best part of swearing-in was seeing the look on my fellow PCVs faces.  They all looked so inspired, so excited and full of life. I’ve really come to appreciate everyone for their awesomely unique personalities and passions. I’m genuinely excited to see the incredible things they will do in their service.  I’m so proud of everyone for all they’ve already learned and accomplished, I can only imagine what the next two years will bring.

The rest of the week in Suva consisted of shopping for site and quality time with one-another before we went our separate ways.  I was one of the last to leave, so I had a nice long rest in Suva before departing. On the day of departure, my tavale (cousin) and momo (uncle) met me at the wharf, where I waited with Eroni (Safety and Security Officer) and Luigi (the other PCV living on Koro). I had no idea my family was coming, but it was a nice surprise! My host parents also came into Suva during their lunch break to make sure that I didn’t forget anything I needed!

Our ferry was scheduled to leave at 6 and arrive around 2 am. It didn’t depart until after 9 pm and we arrived at Koro Island around 8 am. So much for a prompt 6 hour boat ride! As my friend Luigi always says, “well this is Fiji..!” Fiji time doesn’t really bother me much for the most part, but nearly 12 hours on a boat had me sea sick for a good day post-trip.

The ferry itself was quite an experience. It’s a very old ferry, so we shared our vessel with many creepy-crawlers. I also happened to have picked up a kitten on the way to the ferry, so I had her crawling all over me the entire trip! (side note: her name is Kila, which means wild in Fijian) Luckily, about an hour or so in, a ferry employee let us stay in a cabin downstairs. It was signficantly less comfortable (hot, sticky, dirty, etc.), but we had beds to sleep on, and didn’t have to worry about watching our bags or my crazy cat. I stepped off that boat with a nice coverering of dirt, crumbs, sweat, bugs bits and cat pee. I must really be a PCV now, because it didn’t phase me a bit.

When we arrived a carrier truck was waiting to take me to Nabasovi. It was about a 40 min drive down a very narrow coastal dirt road. I was greeting in my village by Luata, the head of the Women’s Group. I will be living in the house that they own, which is smack in the middle of the village, by the vale ni lotu and vale va sogo (church and community hall).

My home and village are everything that I had imagined for my Peace Corps experience. Nabasovi is sandwiched between the crystal blue ocean and palm lined beach on one side and lush verdante mountains on the other. It is a tight-knit traditional village of around 100 people. My na and ta (mom and dad) here are family of the PC SSO, so I feel very safe and taken care of alreadyJ

My house here is two bedrooms, and made of tin and wood. I have a beautiful woven mat in each room, plenty of windows, and a view of the sea from my kitchen. I don’t have electricity, but I do have 2 solar lights and running water… everything that I need!

I’m extremely excited to be living in a village. I’ve grown accustomed to the communal lifestyle of Fijian villages, and I feel lucky to continue this way of life for the next two years. Since arrival I’ve gotten to know many people in my village, mostly because they are always bringing me food and calling me over for tea! Here there is one tiny canteen in the ratu’s home that sells basic goods shipped from Suva. Other than that, everything we need to live comes from the land! When I want fruit or vegetables, I just ask my ta or neighbors and they can bring it over. Right now I have about 20 mangos in my kitchen!

My job here will be doing community outreach at the Nabasovi nursing station. My counterpart is a nurse named Mareta. She is currently in Suva, and I will start work when she returns… eventually. This is Fiji! Until then, I’ll spend time getting to know my new community, and I couldn’t be happier.

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