When I talk to people at home, I always feel like I should have endless exciting stories. The truth is though, it’s the infinite minute aspects of Fijian culture and life in an island village that make each day interesting. Sometimes I’m amazed at how little I can think to talk about when I call home… a story easily loses all meaning when the context isn’t understood. It still surprises me how easily I’ve become accustomed to this new life of mine; so much so that at times I can’t even think what might be unusual enough to share!
It’s one thing to describe my usual day, “In the morning I try to get some exercise, have breakfast and head to work. After work I often spend time with my neighbors until I make dinner and head to bed.” This could be any day back in the US. What is missing are all of the tiny details, the moments that remind me, like Dorothy after twister, oh yes, I’m not in Kansas anymore…
In the lingering dark of early morning I am awoken by a cacophony of squawks and crows announcing that it is 5:30am, and well past the time that roosters think appropriate to sleep in. I creep out of under my mosquito net, light a candle in lieu of electric lights and plop myself sleepily on my yoga mat. Besides centering myself for the day, yoga helps get out the inevitable knots caused by my foam mattress on the floor.
After yoga I often go for a run (in my wrap around sulu of course). Which way I run depends on how social I’m feeling–going right, through the neighboring villages, undoubtably means stopping for a cup of tea, or at the very least a quick chat and packaging of fresh mangos to take home with me. The northern route is usually quiet, besides the early rising farmer, packs of pigs and grazing horses, who are usually too busy with their own routines to bother with me.
I return from my run to get ready for work. I’ll take a quick cold shower, as long as the heavy rains haven’t caused debris to block the pipes that carry water down the mountain. I share my shower with a monster frog or two most days- chasing them out is getting old, and they always return anyways. Post-shower breakfast always includes fresh picked bananas from Ta, and coffee made with filtered water, since my tap is sometimes a shade or two off from what I’m comfortable drinking. I make my cat breakfast too: powdered milk and crackers mixed with hot water. She prefers fish, but I’ll have to wait until lunch when I can kerekere my neighbor’s leftovers.
I head to work for 9 am, though my 5 minute walk is often longer when the road has turned muddy river after a week of torrential rains. I aim to be on time or early, though arrival at 9 am is more of a flexible suggestion than a requirement. It isn’t uncommon for the nursing station to still be locked upon arrival, in which case I end up laying on a mat in the nurses house, drinking tea and reading to her 9 month old daughter until we see a patient strolling down the dirt road towards our station.
Work at this point in the year is a relative term. It is school break until February, which means holiday season down time. Few people come into the nursing station, and new projects won’t begin until after Christmas. I insist on helping in any way possible, and spend much time reading up on relevant community health topics. All efforts considered, some rainy afternoons inevitably turn into talanoa sessions over snacks, with the occasional nap (insisted upon by nurse Mareta). Sega na leqa, we’ll get busy after Christmas!
On my walk home from work, I’ll often stop by the chief’s house. If he happens to have opened his shop at the moment, I’ll grab myself what few necessities I have to pay for here- toilet paper, cell phone top up… I might also pop into his living room to unplug my charging laptop. He’s one of few village residents with a generator, so when I’m feeling lavish I’ll cough up the dollar a pop to charge my laptop.
As I’m making my way to my little wooden house at the center of the village, it’s impossible to not be spotted by one of my many grandmothers. “Keresi, mei!“, with a flick of the wrist I’m summoned over, either to be asked what I’ve eaten that day, what I plan to eat that night, or to be told that I will be eating, now. If late afternoon tea or dinner has yet to begin, this means preparing the food and setting the mats for the men to eat first. I sit with the women and stack plates high with freshly baked goods, and line the long floor cloth with bilos for tea and jars of sugar. While the men eat, the women chat, laugh and clean dishes. A meal in Fiji is intermittently punctuated by invitations to “kana vakalevu” (eat a lot), and when one excuses themselves they give thanks for the meal, to which the host replies “vinaka vakayagataka” (thank you for using it). Once the men excuse themselves the women consolidate what’s left and eat together.
If I happen to spend the evening on my own at home, dinner is one of two options: lunch leftovers or a meal brought over by one of my many family members here in the village. Never in America would I eat a meal that had sat on the stove all day, but in a world with no refrigeration, that is my singular option. Heat kills anything dangerous anyways (here is where I owe my grandmother an apology for being a snot about this back at home)!
At least once a week, I spend my time before dinner doing laundry. This is never less than an hour long process, and requires soaking the clothes, brushing them on the wash board, rinsing, wringing them out, and then hanging them on the line. When it’s raining out, my living room is decorated with a fine banner of my drying sulus and t-shirts. I spend extra time washing when I have a load of wash cloths that I use to clean up the constant messes created by my furry roommate. It’s not hard to “go green” when it’s your only option! What are paper towels again..?
By about 9 pm I’m usually off to bed. I close the shutters on my windows to keep the mosquitos at bay, and tuck myself in my mosquito net cocoon to read in the light of my headlamp. My reading light will often invite passerby’s to call moce keresi, mataka! (goodnight carissa, see you tomorrow!) until I pass out. I fall asleep to sound of happily shrieking bats feasting high in mango trees, to be awakened again by my rooster alarm clock, to begin a new day in this strangely normal life of mine 🙂